Among trends in horror over the last several years, the centering of social media as not just a plot device but key theme has increased. Not surprisingly, horror has taken great pleasure in targeting influencers and the ‘likes-based’ culture of social media. Though it wasn’t as widely seen as examples like Unfriended, Don’t Hang Up was another early shot taken at the more noxious aspects of platforms like YouTube. The 2017 thriller mixed the ‘prank gone wrong’ slasher formula with bits revenge and Torture Porn horror to a less-than-impressed response.
Best friends Brady, Sam, Mosley, and Roy (a.k.a. “PrankMonkey69”) run their own viral YouTube channel posting phone pranks. Far from being childish or innocent, the boys’ pranks are often manipulative and cruel showing a callous disregard for their victims. A year after their first viral prank, the boys receive a friend request from a young girl named Izzy. Later that evening Brady and Sam receive repeated phone calls from an anonymous man who knows a lot about the boys. Soon they realize that the man has his own deadly pranked planned for the evening. Now Sam and Brady must figure out their connection to this stranger before it’s too late.
Don’t Hang Up Doesn’t Have Enough Story to Sustain Tension For Even 83 Minutes
Let’s start with the good things about Don’t Hang Up. The production values, performances, and basic execution are all decent. Directors Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot have plenty of experience with visual effects and it shows in the thriller’s visual quality. That opening scene proves to be an effective setup for what inevitably follows. Don’t Hang Up also milks the mystery of Mr. Lee’s plans to good effect – there’s quite a bit of tension in those early moments. Regardless of intended twists and how well they land, the finale feels urgent and a bit tragic. Everything about this thriller is serviceable.
The production values, performances, and basic execution are all decent. Directors Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot have plenty of experience with visual effects and it shows in the thriller’s visual quality.
Conversely, Don’t Hang Up is clearly a derivative horror movie straddling itself between the slasher and Torture Porn subgenres. Yet it lacks the body count and inventiveness of slashers. And Mace and Wajsbrot never fully embrace an R-rating enough to be a true Torture Porn movie. Most of the plot beats are also familiar enough to know where the story wants to go. Another issue that emerges in the middle act is that the thin premise stretches itself too far. That is, Mace and Wajsbrot can’t maintain the tension from early scenes.
Don’t Hang Up Misjudges Audience Response to its Own Characters
Arguably, the most glaring problem that immediately emerges in Don’t Hang Up is the characters that populate the thriller. One has to assume that writer Joe Johnson (The Skulls III) patterned PrankMonkey69 et al. after real-world YouTube pranksters like Logan and Jake Paul. This immediately creates a dilemma for the thriller – we’re either being set up to cheer on the boys’ demise or root for their survival. But Don’t Hang Up never gives us any reason to like these characters. Even without much in the way of any depth, just on face value, they’re not likeable. Nevertheless, the thriller inevitably wants us to care about what happens to them. There’s also something strange about how the story focuses on Sam and Brady while treating the PrankMonkey69 as an afterthought.
But Don’t Hang Up never gives us any reason to like these characters. Even without much in the way of any depth, just on face value, they’re not likeable.
Moreover, Don’t Hang Up suffers from a villain problem. Johnson’s screenplay wants you to believe the caller’s identity is in doubt, which is never the case. Nothing about this thriller deviates from expectations. While there’s palpable tension in the early-going and some momentum driving the final act, ‘Mr. Lee’ lacks much of a presence. Other thrillers – most notably Saw and Se7en – have benefited from terrifying villains who spent most of their respective thrillers offscreen and motiveless. And Mr. Lee is mostly a dull voice on the phone whose connection to the story is transparent.
Don’t Hang Up is Serviceable in a Pinch, But Not Much Else
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Don’t Hang Up. On one hand, it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of revenge horror with decent production values and performances. In addition, Macé and Wajsbrot craft some initial suspense and fairly satisfying finale though the middle act buckles under the lack of substance. Maybe it’s R-rating isn’t really earned – it lacks the body count for a slasher and the explicit gore for Torture Porn. And no one should be surprised by the final reveal. Nonetheless, Don’t Hang Up should pass for a rainy day watch if there’s no better options.