The Hangman's Curse Movie Review

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According to The Hangman's Curse, there are select citizens secretly commissioned by the government to investigate strange mysteries, crimes, and unusual occurrences across America. Working undercover, these people are known as The Veritas Project (Veritas is Latin for truth).

The Hangman's Curse, which is based on a novel by Frank Peretti, opens as Abel Frye--a troubled student in small town Washington state--hangs himself in the dark corridors of Rogers High School. Apparently Abel's peers teased him to the point where he didn't want to live any longer.

The film cuts to ten years later. It's a beautiful, sunny day. A football game rages on Rogers High School athletic field. Fans watch from the stands. Suddenly, a player becomes violently ill, sees a ghost, and then dies. Now, at most high schools this would be unusual--but not at Rogers High. This kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, it's becoming so frequent, the government decides to call upon the Springfields, a family that is part of The Veritas Project.

The Springfields work together to get to the bottom of the mysteries at Rogers High School. Sarah (Mel Harris), the mother, investigates the scientific side of the calamities; Nate (David Keith), the father, poses as the school custodian; and their teenager children, twins Elisha and Elijah (Leighton Meester and Douglas Smith), merge their way into the social groups of the school. With the help of an eccentric professor (horrendously played by author Frank Peretti), they undercover suspicious geeks, callused coaches, evil witchcraft, legendary ghosts, ghastly graffiti, and a few $50 bills that are laced with a crystalline substance, all which appear to be connected to Abel Frye's death ten years earlier.

Unless you suspend all rationality, The Hangman's Curse makes little sense. In the logical world, after a series of suspicious deaths, any high school would be shuttered until authorities said it was safe for the students to return. Yet, the folks at Rogers High don't cancel a single day of class, despite the fact that students are dropping dead left and right. And, after ten years, wouldn't someone have removed the rope that Abel used to kill himself? Since the rope is still hanging from the high school ceiling--I guess not. And does anyone else find it odd that the walls in Rogers High School contain miles of pipelines large enough for a full sized teenager to crawl through?

Although it's intellectually stupid, The Hangman's Curse does have more wisdom than most teen thrillers. The film has a certain respect for its characters; they are not mindless puppets of the plot, and seem to have an understanding of how friendship is different than love, love is different than sex, and relationships and friendships are developed through a process. Most teen films don't even bother to develop characters, let alone relationships. These characters feel like genuine people. I actually wanted to get to know them--now there's a novelty.

Furthermore, The Hangman's Curse gets kudos for taking the ultimate risk: it allows its characters to demonstrate Christian values. But this isn't another fanatical Left Behind franchise. The film might exemplify Christian values, but it isn't evangelical. It has enough Christian flavor to make a point, but it never becomes a sermon or a homily. Religion isn't the subject of the film, and director Rafal Zielinski (Fun, Screwballs) doesn't allow it to overwhelm the movie.

But the refreshing, family-friendly values do have a downside: They seem to prevent the film from getting itself dirty and taking risks. The movie thinks its audience is primarily Christian; therefore, it wants to stay inside a "comfort zone" and avoid violence, bloodshed, and scariness. Now, I suppose that's good if you're making a family film, but this is supposed to be a horror movie. Because it never leaves its comfort zone, The Hangman's Curse is about as scary as watching Cookie Monster stroll down Sesame Street. There are a few decent surprises at the end, but even those are more interesting than they are frightening.

With its sweet, earnest quality, I really wanted to like The Hangman's Curse--but it's sweet and earnest when it should be scary and suspenseful. For a Christian horror film to work, it needs to find a happy medium in exemplifying Christian values while still offering thrills and chills. The Hangman's Curse doesn't have the balls to do that. But it is a noble effort. It's the first film adaptation of Frank Peretti's work, and I hope it is not the last.

The DVD features two bonus featurettes including "Frank Peretti: From Page to Screen" that interviews Peretti and the filmmakers about the making of the movie, and "The Spider Wrangler: The Spiders of the Hangman's Curse" that showcases a behind-the-scenes look at the unique use of spiders in the film.

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The Hangman's Curse Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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