Written by: The Butcher Brothers and Adam Weis
Directed by: The Butcher Brothers
Reviewed by: Brett G.
In 2006, After Dark Films announced Horrorfest, an 8 film horror movie festival that would take place in select American cities in November of that year. Dubbed ďEight Films to Die For,Ē the festival essentially gave eight independent horror films a chance to shine in theaters. Essentially, these were selected by After Dark as the best of the best when it comes to independent horror. Naturally, I was skeptical of the flicks, as theyíre essentially direct-to-video material that just happened to play in theaters for a couple of days. However, I couldnít resist picking up the flicks when they went on sale for $5 apiece late last year, and Iím just now getting around to them.
In case you havenít been keeping up with my tour through the After Dark series at this point, these films so far havenít exactly lit the world on fire. Theyíve been serviceable, yes, but none have been particularly memorable. This is mostly due to the fact that none of the films have attempted to do anything new; indeed, each of them has been basic horror fare. Of course, this isnít necessarily a bad thing in and of itself if the film is extraordinarily well done, but none of the After Dark films can claim this. Thus, the quest for something beyond mediocre continues, and The Hamiltons is our next contender.
The Hamiltons opens with a bound girl being attacked by an unseen creature in a basement. After this, some home video footage of a seemingly normal suburban family: a pregnant mother, a father, and a few kids. However, once the credits stop rolling and this footage ends, we learn that the parents in the footage have died in a car accident. This leaves big brother David as the head of the family, which now consists of himself and his three siblings: Wendell, Darlene, and Francis. Itís the latter here that becomes the filmís protagonist and narrator, and it soon becomes very clear that The Hamiltons are harboring a dark secret beneath their picturesque suburban existence, and it is this mystery propels the filmís narrative. We see Wendell and Darlene share a seemingly incestuous relationship, while the family also keeps two girls as prisoners in their basement; furthermore, the basement houses the aforementioned unseen creature from the beginning of the film.
Francis, however, attempts to separate himself from his bizarre family, as the film follows his struggle to come to terms with his familyís dark secret. His narration reveals his inner struggle, and his unusual bond with one of the captives in the basement reveals a wounded innocence that makes the character work. When a film is as character driven as The Hamiltons is, a strong lead is vital to the filmís effectiveness, and this film succeeds here. Francisís struggle is palpable, and there are several scenes where you want Francis to escape his unusual situation; however, it becomes clear that this simply isnít possible, as the film builds to the twist in its climax.
Without ruining this twist, Iíll just say that it works well, and doesnít feel forced at all. Unlike a lot of films where a twist is there just to shock audiences, the twist here is germane to the story. There are plenty of red herrings strewn throughout to keep you on your toes, but an astute viewer will probably have an inking of whatís going on before the big reveal. Still, the film manages to stay interesting enough because thereís an unsettling tone that permeates the entire film. Even David, the seemingly normal brother, is a bit off-kilter, and the film shows that even the most normal of suburbanites can house the darkest secrets. This film truly plays on the fears we may have of not being able to trust anyone, but, in the end, the film takes a turn that wants you to sympathize with the monsters. We see this a lot in horror, and it works here because weíre given a good protagonist that earns our sympathy throughout the film. Thereís one film to which Iíd like to compare The Hamiltons, but doing so would undoubtedly spoil the ending.
While the film as a whole is very effective, itís not without its weaknesses. The film drags a bit in parts, and the characters of Darlene and Wendell are a bit clichť and contrast a bit too harshly with Francis and David. Other perceived weaknesses might arise depending on what type of horror you like. If you like a tightly constructed, action packed romp, you probably wonít enjoy The Hamiltons. There arenít a ton of action-filled scenes, nor is there a ton of gore. However, if you like low-key, character-driven horror films, youíll probably enjoy this one. As far as direction goes, The Butcher Brothers show a lot of promise here, as the film is essentially a well-done juggling act, as they effectively balance good characterization and mystery without tipping their hand. Iíll be looking forward to what these two have in store in the future (Iím hoping their April Foolís Day remake isnít indicative of where theyíre headed, however). The filmís photography is a bit drab and nothing to write home about, but this doesnít have a profound effect on the filmís overall quality.
So, after a few tries, the After Dark series has finally delivered something memorable. The Hamiltons probably wonít be regarded as a horror classic anytime soon, but I can see it obtaining a cult following in the future. Itís certainly different from not only its After Dark brethren, but also most horror films these days that focus on extreme gore and torture, and itís nice to see something fresh for a change. Itís certainly not perfect, but I applaud The Butcher Brothersí effort here. If youíre going to seek this out, the DVD contains a fine presentation along with a few special features (including a commentary with The Butcher Brothers). While the other After Dark films have warranted nothing more than a rental at this point, Iím going to cautiously recommend this one as a blind buy, especially if you can find it dirt cheap like I did. Buy it!
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