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Hangman (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020


HANGMAN (2017)

Starring Karl Urban, Al Pacino, Brittany Snow, Joe Anderson, Sarah Shahi, Michael Papajohn, Chelle Ramos, Jules Haven, Jermaine Rivers, Odessa Rae, Stephanie Enderby, Steve Coulter, Matt Mercurio, Sydney Shea Barker, Sloane Warren, Dwayne Boyd, Katelyn Farrugia, Scott Parks and Michael Rose.

Screenplay by Charles Huttinger and Michael Caissie.

Directed by Johnny Martin.

Distributed by Saban Films. 98 minutes. Rated R.

It’s been a long while since seeing Al Pacino’s name on a movie poster was a promise of quality. That boat sailed a long time ago, probably bottoming out when he played a slimy version of himself in Adam Sandler’s Jack & Jill. While Pacino’s taste in projects has been a little stronger than his old Godfather II co-star Robert De Niro, he has taken quite a few films on that are not worthy of his talents.

Hangman is sadly one of them. To make it even more of a slap in the face, Pacino isn’t even the star, he’s only the second lead.

A dank and dreary horror film which wants to be another Se7en, but is instead is a really low-rent knock-off of Jigsaw, Hangman takes a vaguely interesting gimmick and does very little with it.

The childhood word game Hangman would seem like a natural touchstone for a horror film. In fact, if you IMDb the name, you’ll find that there have been a few movies that have used it previously over the years (the last one just two years ago).

The game has simplistic and yet kinda-horrific rules: You guess the letters for a blanked-out word (or words), and with each wrong guess a different body part is put on a drawn gallow – head, torso, arms, legs, hands and feet. If you don’t get the letters right before all the parts are drawn in, you lose, and your character dies a violent death.

So, okay, yeah, that could potentially be the basis for a good horror film.

This is not that movie.

The movie takes place in a run-down fictional southern city named Monroe. (It was filmed in Atlanta). There are a series of theatrically staged murders in which the victims are strung up and have letters in a deadly game of Hangman carved into their torsos – while the victims were still alive. Nearby the bodies are lots of little clever “clues” and a game board in which each letter is being added with the dead bodies. A new body is appearing every 24 hours.

In an early scene, on a teacher’s desk there is a carving of the badge number of the lead detective – actually, he seems to be the only active detective working on this case – Will Ruiney (Ruiney? Really?), as played by Karl Urban. Ruiney is a loner whose wife was murdered 10 years earlier and the culprit was never caught – and how much do you want to bet that this killer is the same one who killed his wife all those years ago?

Also carved into the desk was the number of his former partner, who had retired a year before. (I still am wondering how they noticed two three-digit numbers carved into a desk which is littered with carvings and graffiti, but okay…). The partner was Ray Archer (Pacino), who was enjoying his retirement with his racing form before being dragged back into the world of investigation for this case, though he is never officially returned to duty. (Oddly, though the film is supposed to take place in a big southern city, only Pacino bothers to come up with a southern accent for his character, though admittedly a kind of wobbly one.)

The final “investigator” is a former local girl made good, Christi Davies (Brittany Snow), a twenty-something who moved up to New York, got a job at the Times, and – as she incredibly reminds us a few times – was up for a Pulitzer Prize. (Really??? She doesn’t even seem to have a particularly good understanding of her job as a journalist, much less the ability to stand out in the most respected newspaper in the country.)

So, basically, the biggest serial killer investigation in Monroe history is being done by one active detective (who probably should be recused because he has a tragic history with the killer) and two civilians. Yeah, don’t see that being a problem.

When we finally meet the killer, he’s fucking bonkers. Not just the character, the actor (whose name I withhold in the slight chance you still care about spoilers) is overacting so wretchedly and absurdly that it’s almost meta, almost enjoyable in a so-bad-it’s-good way, but it never even reaches that low bar.

The motive of the killer never makes any sense. He is given a tragic back-story in which he witnessed his father’s suicide as a small child. However, that never really explains the burning hatred he has for Pacino’s character, who was merely the policeman who answered the call about the suicide. Archer had nothing to do with the father’s death, he was just doing his job, and he did his best to make it as painless on the kid as he could. Perhaps the kid thought the guy would walk him through child services for the rest of his life, but that wasn’t Pacino’s responsibility. So why does he have this massive hate-on for the guy?

And they never really explain why the killer hated Urban’s character enough to kill his wife and make him a part of this whole complicated “game.” Other than being Pacino’s partner at the time of his wife’s death, Ruiney seemed to have nothing to do with the killer – either as a child or as a grown-up madman.

To make everything all just a little more annoying, the final hangman “puzzle” answer isn’t even a real word. Well, it is a word, but one with “em” added at the end for no apparent reason, other than to make sure no one gets what the sorta-word is until it is unveiled during the climax. Honestly, I had figured out the first eight letters at least an hour and five or six murders earlier, but for the life of me I couldn’t see why there was an empty letter and an “M” at the end. I suppose they were trying to make it seem a little more official or like a Latin version of the word, but as far as I can find that is not even legitimate in that context.

However, by then, you’ve long since given up any expectation of sanity or coherence in Hangman. You’re just ready for it to end, already.

I hope that Al Pacino was well paid for this role. Otherwise, there is no legitimate excuse for him having done Hangman.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: December 21, 2017.

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