REVIEW: Don’t Hang Up
– By Allan Lear
Being interested in sex is, despite what received wisdom may suggest, a quiet revolution. When I was a small child I hated romantic scenes in films, I thought they were boring and pointless. My elders and/or betters (generally only the former) would laugh to each other and inform me that when I was older, I would view things differently; I, for my part, would be adamant that this kissing business might ensnare other, more unimaginative people, but that I would never have any use for it.
Sooner or later, however, it came to my attention that women were great, and I started pursuing their intimate company. Yet for all the many thoughts I have had regarding the opposite sex and my success or otherwise in my relations with them, I honestly believe that it did not occur to me a single time throughout my teens and twenties that there had been, not so very long ago, a time when I had solemnly abjured their company for the indefinite future. Not only had my entire worldview vis-à-vis the fraternisation of the sexes been utterly overturned, but I had blanked from my mind the very fact that this philosophical volte face had even happened.
Another quiet revolution is the cyber revolution. When I was young, before god created woman and her irresistible allure, the cyber revolution meant that the future would be a symphony in chrome; everyone would be decked out in spangly metal accoutrements like spring-powered Inspector Gadget legs, vicious titanium claw arms and cellular masts sticking out of the eyebrows. Then you’d plug your appendix directly into a BT phone line and be electrocuted by your own antivirus software while trying to clear your spam folder.
Instead, as we all know, the cyber revolution happened neither in meatspace nor in netspace, but in the intangible hinterland between the two. The much-vaunted new flesh of Cronenberg and Tetsuo got side-tracked into a far more admirable drive to equip people with prosthetic limbs that bent in the jointy places and didn’t make toddlers point in the street, and while people were sighing with relief that they hadn’t become mechanical abominations hardwired into electronic armchairs, we all took our brains out, put them in a pen drive for safekeeping, and promptly lost the drive. Our frail, exquisite human bodies might lurch about the place as nature intended with fine, gracile motor control and occasional hiccups, but our memories are external and our social interaction is dependent on high bandwidth and clement weather conditions. Author Steve Aylett has identified sufferers of a modern neurological condition he calls Download Syndrome, in which a person becomes unconvinced of the reality of any experience they have had until they have reported it on a social media network.
It’s far from an original observation to note that this cybernetic revolution has exposed us to new dangers as well as offering us new possibilities. Indeed, the same argument has probably been made about new technology ever since the first Palaeolithic tribesman stood too close to the new firepit and accidentally set his penis gourd ablaze. The horror genre has not been slow to take advantage of this proliferation of online threats, and a busy little subgenre has sprung up featuring titles such as Unfriended, Megan Is Missing, Cyberbully, My Little Eye, feardotcom and The Dropbox Murders, possibly.
It’s also possible to use this new technology to breathe new life into old formats, and that is what writer Joe Johnson has done with Don’t Hang Up, which is not so much an idea for the digital revolution as it is the opening sequence of Scream with a YouTube channel.
The plot is admirably simple. We are introduced to a small collection of college-age knobheads whose idea of a good time is ringing up random women and convincing them that they are unsafe in their own homes. On the night our film is set, one of these spectacular testicles is having some sort of inexplicable girlfriend trouble – the inexplicable part being that he has a girlfriend to begin with – so his best mate and fellow bellend convinces him that they should get mashed and make nuisance phonecalls to people who are vastly more important and useful than them. Regrettably (or, in fact, not), on this specific occasion they choose to prank one of those omniscient and utterly efficient psychopaths that they have in movies, and from then their evening becomes decidedly less whimsical.
Don’t Hang Up is your basic horror film. It has a basic plot and some basic effects and your basic dialogue. The acting is somewhat above basic, although whether the actors could have done better is a moot point considering they play fairly two-dimensional roles; Garrett Clayton plays a total dick, Gregg Sulkin plays a partial dick, and Bella Dayne plays the love interest – probably the most layered part and certainly the most nuanced performance, though of course it’s all tears and squawking by the end of the night. Our happy-go-lucky murder factory is voiced by a chap called Philip Desmeules and he certainly does a beautiful job, with his lovely well-modulated middle-American tones standing in welcome relief to the slitting-up that is being performed on camera.
Essentially, there isn’t really any point in watching Don’t Hang Up. It’s a completely disposable horror film and one that has nothing new to bring to the table. On the other hand, it’s also a completely easy film to watch; it doesn’t require any particular attention, there’s nothing so egregiously stupid or poorly-done that you’ll chuck anything at your telly, and it does have the bravery to stick to the slaughter instead of chickening out into any of the cop-out twist endings that it sets up for itself but never sinks to. For the serious horror aficionado Don’t Hang Up is anaemically weak sauce, but for a compromise viewing – such as, for example, when selecting a date night movie with a less viscerally-minded choice of partner – it is a safe choice, managing the difficult low-wire act of being inoffensive but not actually tedious. It’s certainly better than getting stuck with one of those boring films that are just a thin framework on which to hang loads of romance scenes.