Directed by the Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri & Phil Flores), 2006. Starring Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKellheer, Mackenzie Firgens, Rebekah Hoyle, Brittany Daniel, Al Liner, Jena Hunt. 86 minutes.
Francis Hamilton, the youngest of four siblings who were recently orphaned, feels out of place in his family. Some of it’s the usual teenager blues, but some of it has to do with some of the more extreme secrets his siblings keep…such as the two girls chained up in a cage in the basement, or the uncontrollably violent monster living in the crawl space…
Occasionally the sorts of movies come along where you’re best served knowing as little as possible going into it. The Hamiltons is one of these, and so I’m not going to go too much into the gorier details. When it comes to horror plot specifics, all you need to know is that it’s a movie about a psycho family. There’s more to it than that, of course…these days, there always is. But…psycho family. Don’t seek out spoilers.
The thing about this particular psycho family is that writer/directors Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores (here hawking their wares under the umbrella title “The Butcher Brothers,” which gives the impression that The Hamiltons will be a great deal gorier than it actually is; there’s certainly a lot of blood, but personally, I don’t consider blood particularly intense) have put more effort in portraying David, Wendell, Danielle and Francis as a family than into portraying them as psychos. Now, certainly there’s an amount of mental imbalance on display—David’s got “a dozen dead homos” buried in the backyard, and when Wendell and Danielle challenge Danielle’s friend (and, very possibly, implied lover) Kitty to a game of “dare or double dare,” be prepared for one of the weirdest make-out sequences in recent cinema history. But most of all the Hamiltons feel like real, credible siblings…and this assessment is coming from me, a guy who’s got a stepbrother he likes well enough but is not particularly close to, and is otherwise an only child. By the time all the cards are on the table, I not only bought the Hamiltons (much as I did not buy the “family” in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), I felt kinda sorry for them.
This is absolutely essential, not only thematically (the Hamiltons’ more bizarre predilections are equated to the more standard travails of dysfunctional family life, much in the way that in Ginger Snaps, werewolvery stands in for puberty and menstruation), but because stylistically, The Hamiltons falls prey to so many of the pitfalls of modern indie filmmaking.
Most of the supporting cast does a decent enough job, with the exception of Allen Davies, who plays Kitty’s brother as if he’s starring in a low-rent View Askew production. Thank God he’s confined to a single scene. Joseph McKelheer and Mackenzie Firgens (I initially read her name as “Mackenzie Fingers,” which is a great name for an actress to have…not as good as “Tuppence Middleton,” but at least as good as “Sheri Moon-Zombie”), as Wendell and Danielle, fill their roles admirably. (They’re particularly effective during the bathroom sequence. So is Jena Hunt, playing Kitty, although her spending the entire scene, not to mention the preceding five minutes, in her underwear certainly helps.)
Cory Knauf is likely to irritate as Francis, but since the character’s obviously written as an incessantly whiny emo kid, if there’s any fault there it goes back to the script. However, Samuel Child, as David—the oldest sib and anchor of the family—drops the ball somewhat and decides to play David as a vintage Crispin Glover character. Child is a bit more restrained than Glover, but even when called upon not to speak, his facial expressions are a bit too over-the-top.
Similiarly, the design of the film is a bit unimaginative. It looks, quite frankly, almost exactly like every other horror movie being made nowadays…not in the production design (the basement’s a bit dingy, but nowhere near as dingy as it could have been), but in the way things are shot. One of my personal pet peeves: all the distracting rock-video-style camera effects.
One of the triumphs of the film’s visual aesthetic is design of “Lenny,” the monster in the crawl space. Jesus H. fucking Christ! I nearly shit a nipple when they pulled that particular reveal. I never thought I’d write the sentence “the monster in the crawl space is easily the scariest thing in the entire movie” in any review of any movie, but there you have it.
Overall, The Hamiltons is a good, solid movie worth a look. It ain’t perfect, but it demonstrates the value of a solid story and a good script.
Moment of Zen