Director: Johnny Martin
Cast: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow, Sarah Shahi, Chelle Ramos, Sloane Warren, Steve Coulter, Joe Anderson
MPAA Rating: (for violent content, bloody images, and language)
Running Time: 1:38
Release Date: 12/22/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 21, 2017
It seems as if it has been a while since we've had a straight-forward serial-killer thriller at the movies. After an influx of them in the 1990s, these kinds of stories apparently have moved to television, with the rise of all the abbreviated crime shows. Hangman tries to bring the subgenre back to the movies. Don't expect a resurgence.
The movie has problems, to say the least. The plot is that there's a serial killer running around a mid-sized city. The gimmick is that the killer is basing his murders on the game of Hangman.
You know the one. Someone has a word in mind, and the person draws spaces for each letter of the word. The player chooses a letter, and if it's part of the word, the letter is put into the appropriate space or spaces. If the chosen letter is not in the word, the word-chooser draws part of a stick-figure's body, attached to a gallows. The goal is for the player to correctly guess the word before the stick-figure is "hanged." In keeping with tradition, the movie opens with a credits sequence that ridiculously tries to make the images of the game being played on a chalkboard look sinister.
I'm not sure why I explained the game, because the movie doesn't actually incorporate it into the plot. Oh, there's a game of Hangman happening, to be sure. Each new victim is found hanging from a makeshift noose, and there's a letter carved into the body. The killer even takes the time to draw the game board at the crime scene, with the newly discovered letter put into its appropriate place.
At no point, though, do any of the main characters—an active detective, a retired one, and an award-winning journalist—stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it might help their investigation if they tried to—I don't know—play the game that the killer is playing with them. Nobody even suggests that the word being spelled out might be a clue about the killer's identity, motives, location, vanity license plate, childhood pet, online password, etc.
These aren't smart people. This definitely is not a smart movie.
The detectives are Ruiney (Karl Urban), whose wife was murdered about a year ago (Is it possible that the two cases are, you know, connected?), and Archer (Al Pacino), who's retired and bored (The latter description could also be used to described Pacino's visible attitude while performing in this). The journalist is Christi Davies (Brittany Snow), who has been given full access to the local police department for a story she's writing.
There is, somehow, little more to say. The plot unfolds as you'd expect: The cops, with their reporter friend tagging along, find a new victim, and some clue leads them to the next body. Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger's screenplay is a bit shaky on those clues, and it's obvious that they've just focused on putting each victim in an atmospheric locale: a church, a meat-processing facility, a room lit with a lot of candles, and so on. Meanwhile, most of the dialogue consists of going over the same details of the crimes over and over again (while characters repeatedly say that the victims were "hung," instead of "hanged," which is a minor point but one that says something about how little thought was put into the screenplay).
It's dull, dumb, and overly familiar. For some reason, Pacino slips in and out of a thick Southern drawl, despite the facts that he's lived in this place for decades and that no other character in the movie has one. There are two possibilities for this: 1.) The actor did a deep dive into the character's background and determined a solid reason that he would have the accent, or 2.) he adopts the twang as a means to stay awake while reciting sentence upon sentence of expository dialogue.
In the end, the Hangman game has more of a metaphorical significance for the killer. We know this because, obviously, he has a lengthy monologue that explains his rationale and, more importantly, gives the cops plenty of time to track him down for a final standoff. There is, perhaps, no other way for Hangman to end. Actually, there is: The movie also has a sequel-teaser of a coda. Don't hold your breath.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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