"Hangman's Curse" - Movie Review
- Friday, September 12, 2003
Genre: Family thriller
Release Date: September 12, 2003 (in selected theaters – see www.hangmanscursethemovie.com)
Actors: David Keith, Mel Harris, Leighton Meester, Douglas Smith, Daniel Farber, Jake Richardson, Andrea Morris, Edwin Hodge, Toni Elizabeth Schilling, Kristin Cowan, Margaret Travolta, Billy Moses and Frank Peretti.
Director: Rafael Zielinski
Special Notes: When Frank Peretti was young, he had an operation to remove a growth on his neck and part of his face that made him look different, subsequently setting him up for bullying, taunting and ridicule throughout his school experience. After the tragic Columbine school shootings, he felt it was time to write about this painful subject through a fiction book that would entail some of the pain and suffering kids go through every day when they are bullied at school. “This story sprang from my own experiences as a child, I was bullied unmercifully, and it continues to go on in every school in America today which is why I wrote this story,” said Peretti. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen what bullying can do and where it can lead, with school shootings and other horrible events.” Frank even plays one of his own characters, the eccentric Professor Algernon Wheeling, in a very eccentric way. If the school principal, played by Margaret Travolta, looks familiar, that’s because she’s the sister of John Travolta.
Plot: When a small town high school has several star football players suddenly turn ill with hallucinations, call out the name of a boy who hung himself years earlier, then turn violently ill and wind up on life support systems, the authorities decide it's time to call in The Veritas Project. The Springfields, Nate (David Keith), Sarah (Mel Harris) and their teenage twins Elisha (Leighton Meester ) and Elijah (Douglas Smith), are a family of private investigators under the code name, The Veritas Project (veritas means truth), who specialize in going undercover to solve mysterious occurrences. As Elisha and Elijah infiltrate the different social groups, they quickly discover who’s popular and who’s not, as the bullying and tension among those social classes increase. Nate goes undercover as a school janitor and observes the coach allowing his athletes to pick on the strange looking Goth kids. He also discovers a straw with a crystal substance in a boy's gym bag, along with the drawing of a hangman that the team is convinced is making kids hallucinate and think they're seeing the ghost of Abel Frye. Sarah is in charge of research and calls upon their family friend and research lab specialist, Professor Algernon, to find out what the substance is and if it can hurt anyone. The Veritas investigation uncovers a pattern: the appearance of a hangman in the next victim's locker. At the same time, they discover Goth kids getting into witchcraft, thinking it will give them powers to fight off the bullies. Time is running out as the Springfields spring into action to find out who will be the next victim to fall prey to the Hangman’s Curse.
Good: Take a hip pair of teenagers who are trained with special spy skills and come loaded with lots of fun gadgets and pair them with two very cool and hip parents who are trained to back them up and help solve dilemmas and you have an exciting combination that is the premise for Frank Peretti’s latest novel turned movie. The story is aimed at the older adolescent/teen market in a high school setting, so the situations and events are obviously relatable to kids and teens in that age group. Producers Ralph Winter, Joe Goodman and Bobby Neutz have created a new category for their movie; they call it a "family thriller." Indeed the story has several intense and thrilling scenes, including kids hallucinating and seeing Abel Frye’s ghost, Elisha getting stuck in a ventilation shaft with scary creatures, several school fights, etc. There are also a few scary moments: costumed people gather in a witching chamber to cast spells on various students, a couple of kids hallucinate and there's another scary plot point. But I’ve been sworn to secrecy not to give it away (I promise you’ll jump and get creeped out). It's the family moments that take this story in a different direction than most thrillers: caring parents, family discussions, prayer at mealtimes, strong family values and working together. Because the story is aimed at older kids to a high school-age audience, it has an edgier look and feel to it. Peretti has woven a complicated “who-done-it” mystery into a story the younger generation can identify with and be passionate about. The message focuses on the effects our actions have on others and the consequences for everyone when cruelty and ridicule wound the spirits of tormentor and victim alike. The story deals with issues about bullying, prejudice, witchcraft, elitism, interracial dating and judging people just because they look different. The surprise twist at the end reveals just how far teenagers will go when repeatedly wounded by others and how devastating that unforgiveness can be. When the truth is revealed, I hope there will be many students who’ll vow to change the world around them, go back to their schools and treat kids differently in hopes of making a difference.
Bad: Parents, I’m calling this a "family thriller," but it's not kiddie-friendly. I don’t think this is a movie you’ll want to take your little ones (age 8 and under) to; it's too intense and too much plot for them to follow. This isn’t a big budgeted, Hollywood horror film with all of the bells and whistles, so don’t try to judge or compare it on that basis. But it's also not a small budgeted “Christian” film with an overt Christian message (in fact the few “Christian” parts are mainly at the end). So don’t discount it as that either. This is the first of Frank Peretti’s books to be made into a movie, so the look and feel of it plays like a teenage mystery novel with interesting plot twists, exciting “spy” action, a wonderful cast of characters and a valuable lesson that will hopefully change a few hearts and minds in the end. For those who are curious about the “ghost” factor, Abel Frye did not kill a girl as rumored; he hung himself at the school because he had been tormented by his classmates. The opening scene shows Abel climbing the stairs to hang himself. We see his swinging shadow against the wall, and there are a few scenes of Abel’s ghostly face appearing to several students who are hallucinating.
Bottom Line: Parents, please get your adolescent age kids and teens to see this movie. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how it relates to their world and will speak to their hearts and minds. I applaud the people behind this film: Ralph Winter, Jerry Rose with TLN Network, Joe Goodman, Bobby Neutz and Rich Cowan who fought to get this movie made because they believe it can be life-changing for our younger generation. They took a chance on daring to be different by using Peretti’s story, filled with subtle biblical themes, and packaging it in an unusual and unconventional movie aimed at reaching kids and teens. And that’s another great example of how God is using Christians to make a difference in Hollywood!
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