6 March 2006 | dgaither
Efficiently captures the spirit of 70s and 80s horror
I saw this film at Cinequest, the San Jose Film Festival, in March of 2006. The Hamiltons is a movie with writing and directing credit going to "The Butcher Brothers". I think this is a name we will be seeing more from in the future. They've managed to put together a good old-fashioned scare fest, with some very powerful shocks along the way, all while using very basic gore and makeup effects.
The movie is about a group of grown siblings, whose parents have died, who are living together as a family unit, trying to be a "normal" suburban family. But they have a terrible secret. Part of that secret is that they abduct and kill people (mostly lovely young women). The rest of the secret is what keeps us involved throughout the mayhem that follows.
They've managed to create an atmosphere similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, without being quite so gruesome or so unrelenting. Mixed among the powerful killing and torture scenes are scenes of banal domestic dysfunction. They are obviously big horror fans and sprinkle the movie with references to the movies genre fans love.
My only complaint is that they overindulge in camera tricks. Some of the tricks are very effective. In the pre-credit scene a woman is killed, but the violence occurs in a series of extremely rapid cuts (I'm guessing maybe 3 per second) which keeps us from quite seeing what's happening. This allows our bloody imaginations to do much of the work and keeps us from noticing how simple the make-up effects are. I would like to have seen them use this technique again, but instead they went on to try every camera trick they could think of.
The youngest brother is camcording much of the family action, he says for a school project. This gives the directors an excuse to have many square-cropped, bouncy scenes, with jagged edges around the objects and low resolution. Other scenes are grainy with a shot-on-videotape-in-poor-lighting look. Much of the movie is in high-resolution, beautiful 35mm. Then, even more distractingly, they start mixing up the resolution and cropping mattes, so that we get a high resolution square shot, supposedly from the camcorder, so the actor can look good in close up. There's a couple of scenes where the shot alternates between two actors in dialog and one of them is shot in the grainy tape-look format while the other one is in high-res 35mm. Nearly all of the violent scenes are augmented? by quick-motion, tracers, vibrating cameras, or something else to add impact not present in the action itself. I'm sure they had fun playing all these camera games. The problem is that it draws us out of the story. I spent much of the movie's time thinking about such things, instead of wondering what they were going to do to those poor girls next. There are a few soundtrack scares, but they don't overdo this.
If it ever gets released, I'll want to see it again. The camera tricks do not make the movie unwatchable, they're just distracting. It's a much better movie than a lot of low-budget horror and it left me with the kind of feeling I get from the old 70s and 80s slashers, but it's not as graphic.