Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Don’t Hang Up: Bad Karma Calling

These two meatheads make the Jerky Boys look suave and socially responsible. They post online videos of their prank calls for their shallow, soulless followers to like and share, but the nature of their gags is despicably harsh. Often, they impersonate authority figures to claim a loved one has died in an auto accident or the like. As one might expect, this invites karma to come back around to visit them with a vengeance in Alexis Wajsbrot & Damien Macé’s Don’t Hang Up (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In the prologue, we see Sam Fuller, Brady Manion, and the other two chuckleheads in their “Prankmonkey” ensemble convince the terrified mother of a young girl there is a violent criminal in her home. If you think this sounds wildly irresponsible, hold that thought, because the incident is obviously significant. Flashforward a few weeks and we find Fuller in a mopey mood because his girlfriend Peyton Grey has dumped him once again. Manion intends to console him with an evening of beer and crank calling, but this time they get the call.

Apparently, the mysterious “Mr. Lee” is holding Manion’s parents captive and can see their every move inside the Fuller house. He will proceed to toy with the pranksters, sewing dissension between them and needling their weak points. Viewers can imagine the shadowy mastermind has a very good reason for being so upset with them, so we do not begrudge him his Biblical payback.

In fact, Don’t Hang Up seems to be that rare kind of horror movie that openly invites us to root for the bogeyman. If you can buy into it on those terms, it is a wickedly entertaining thrill ride. Granted, Mr. Lee gets seriously Old Testament in the third act, but by that time, we so loathe these entitled millennials, we’re okay with that.

You sort of have to give Gregg Sulkin and Garrett Clayton credit for making Fuller and Manion so nauseatingly self-absorbed and utterly lacking in basic human empathy. They really help Wajsbrot and Macé stir up the audience’s blood lust. Both directors have special effects backgrounds, but DHU is much more a showcase for their super-slick, attitude-heavy execution and breakneck pacing. At least for a while, they also emulate Hitchcock’s Rope, which suddenly seems to be the thing to do, but you lose sight of the gimmicks when the stakes and tension really start to rise.

It is rather remarkable how adeptly Wajsbrot and Macé upend the way viewers relate to horror films, but that also makes it quite satisfying. It is a taut, nimble film that will make midnight movie regulars sit up and take notice. Highly recommended for horror and revenge thriller fans, Don’t Hang Up opens (late night) this Friday (2/10) in New York, at the Cinema Village.