Hangman’s Curse (2003) Movie Review

The first thing you’ll notice about “Hangman’s Curse” isn’t that it’s a tad corny or that it’s a mixture of “X-Files”-lite and one of those R.L. Stine novels. It’s this: The teens are actually teens! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am not telling a fib. Leighton Meester and Douglas Smith, who play the teen children of paranormal investigators David Keith and Mel Harris, are actual teens! I know what you’re thinking. “Could this be? But I thought they didn’t exist!” It would seem we’re both wrong.

David Keith (“Epoch”) headlines as Nate Springfield, the patriarch of a brood that spends their time driving around the country in an RV investigating paranormal events and doing odd jobs, such as scaring a confession out of a young would-be drug dealer. Before you can question the legality of such a “confession”, the family is off again, this time to Rogers High School, where a mysterious “curse” is putting football players in comas. Before slipping into their comas, the players, all known school bullies, had claimed that a long-dead student who had hung himself 10 years ago was after them. Is it a curse, a ghost, or is something more sinister afoot? And where’s Scooby-Doo when you need him?

The actual leads of “Hangman’s Curse” are Meester and Smith, playing fraternal twins Elisha and Elijah, two teens that don’t mind ghost hunting between doing homework and flirting with the locals. The duo has all the latest slang and fashion trend down, with Elisa easily mixing in with the cool kids and jocks, while Elijah “gets” to play a nerd this time. As written, the two teens are bright and capable, intellectually as well as physically, which bodes well since the bulk of the movie has the them running through dark rooms and peeking into dark corners. The parents, on the other hand, spend most of their time either in the parked RV or in a lab with a kooky scientist played by novelist Frank Peretti (from whose novel the movie is adapted).

The thrust of the movie is Elisha and Elijah maneuvering through the minefield of today’s high school — namely the ongoing warfare between the jocks and the Goths (aka the insiders vs. the outsiders). The Goths, decked out in trendy black trench coats and sporting rings in places where rings don’t belong, are led by Jake Richardson, whose character is in dire need of a good ass whuppin’. While I can feel for the young man’s inability to “fit” in, as written he’s an unlikable jerk. The jocks are led by footballers Norman and Leonard, the latter being one of those obvious bullies who achieved bully status the same day he realized he was bigger than the rest and could thus crush them by sitting on them. With the Goths into witchcraft, they seem the likely suspect behind the hangman’s curse. Of course anyone who has seen enough episodes of “X-Files” or any slasher/horror film in the last 3 years know it can’t possibly be that easy. Could it?

To give it credit, “Hangman’s Curse” has a novel twist in its Third Act that basically makes moot everything that preceded it. Unfortunately the fact that I had already figured out who the culprit was, and had answered most of the questions surrounding the curse at the 50-minute mark, meant I had to sit through 50 minutes of plot exposition. Not to mention watching characters slowly — painfully slowly — figuring out what was so obvious. It could be that I’m insanely clever, but perhaps I’ve just seen too many episodes of “X-Files” not to see the big switch coming. (Actually, you could say there’s a switch in genre at the hour mark.)

It doesn’t help that the Third Act really seemed to drag, with one of the teen leads seemingly forced into distress for the sake of hiking up the Kiddie In Danger factor. Also, the pacing seemed to slow down quite a bit, resulting in scenes that don’t jive. For instance, 3 scenes are constantly intercut, each scene involving something urgent happening, and although all 3 scenes take place in the same school and at the same time, it felt as if they were taking place in 3 different cities over 3 different days. In short, there was no “flow”. Although to be fair, director Rafal Zielinski does a capable job for most of the film. “Hangman’s Curse” probably didn’t have a very big budget, and yet it provides some spiffy eye candy, especially whenever the cursed kids see a ghostly vision pursuing them.

“Hangman’s Curse” is, I believe, a minor success. The two young leads pull their roles off with believability, even if the Elisha character is always jumping head-first into a potentially dangerous situation, only to scream her head off and run in the other direction at the first sign of trouble. I would have liked to see more of Elijah put in danger, since for much of the film he took after mom and dad — meaning he ran around asking questions a lot. Young Leighton Meester is a good actress, but Douglas Smith is the actor to watch out for.

Rafal Zielinski (director) / Frank Peretti (novel), Kathy Mackel, Stan Foster (screenplay)
CAST: David Keith …. Nate Springfield
Mel Harris …. Sarah Springfield
Leighton Meester …. Elisha Springfield
Douglas Smith …. Elijah Springfield

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