Monday, June 11, 2007


Round 6 of the on-going clash with the After Dark Horrorfest line-up and my iguana goes down!
With only one previous win on After Dark’s record (Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned), my iguana goes in to take the measure of The Butcher Brothers’ The Hamiltons, is taken completely by surprise, and gets the floor wiped with her tush.

The Hamiltons follows four siblings fending for themselves after the deaths of their parents some years back.
David (Samuel Child) is the eldest suddenly burdened with the responsibility of watching over his family; Wendell and Darlene (Joseph McKelheer; and Harmony from Greg Harrison’s Groove, Mackenzie Firgens) are the troublesome twins; and Francis (Cory Knauf) is the youngest and most disenfranchised of the four, still missing his parents terribly, and needing to find his place in the scheme of things.
You see, Francis believes he’s unlike the rest of his family, believes he doesn’t belong here, with them.
The thing is, his family has the ugly habit of abducting innocent women and chaining them up in the basement, where something wild and feral they call “Lenny” is kept under lock and key.

There are two central mysteries that run the length of The Hamiltons’ running time: why exactly do they keep these women chained in the basement, and what the frak is “Lenny”?
And though the seasoned horror vet will at least probably hit upon the truth of The Hamiltons as a possibility in his mental shortlist, it is to the credit of The Butcher Brothers and co-writer Adam Weiss that the pay-off is an interesting and effective one, and turns the film into something I hadn’t quite anticipated: a coming-of-age tale.

Clearly the odd-man-out in the family, Francis becomes the audience proxy, as he videos the bizarre goings-on in their home, ostensibly as a “school project.” As a narrative device, the video documentation of Francis’ home life (complete with voice-overs delving into Francis’ thoughts and feelings) isn’t anything necessarily new or terribly inventive. It does, however, lend an air of earnest emotion to the material, something rarely seen in indie horror, where the main concern is usually how to get as much realistic gore onscreen on the severely limited budget at hand.
Though he was once close to David, his older brother has become the surrogate father, more the Enemy now than the Confidante he once was. And Wendell and Darlene, like many sets of twins, are a unit in and of themselves, a clique of two impenetrable to an outsider, even one already within the filial borders.
Isolated, alone, Francis has no one to turn to, but Sam (Rebekah Hoyle), one of the current prisoners in the Hamiltons’ basement. And in showing tiny kindnesses to Sam (bringing her a Coke, letting her eat a hamburger), Francis realizes his dilemma: he wishes his family were caught, and yet when faced with the opportunity to call the police in to do just that—as well as save Sam—he wonders, Who will take care of him? Where will he go? To whose collective shall he belong?
As extremely dysfunctional as his family is, it is the one to which he belongs, and his mother always believed that family was the “heart of everything.” Even existence.

Which brings us to the other important theme of The Hamiltons: monsters are people too, and even monsters need a family to belong to.
Now, we’ve seen the idea of a group of monsters as a community, more specifically, a family unit; Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, The X-Files’ “Home” episode.
But in all of these, the monster aspect was always the more dominant, and the characters not really meant to be relatable.
In The Hamiltons, we are shown a family that resorts to gruesome behaviour, but really only because this is something they need to do for their survival. What Francis perceives as cold-blooded homicidal actions are simply things that need to be done, and his siblings’ attitudes towards the acts (particularly the twins’) perhaps coping mechanisms for dealing with what they need to do simply to maintain their existence.
And in Francis’ climactic epiphany, he comes to realize this is truly what he is, and his family is here because they need each other. And in that realization, he also understands that this is where he is meant to be. As David points out after Francis has taken that first step towards maturity and filial responsibility, their father would be proud.

Now, though this idea of the filial possibilities of a monster’s existence has been done to potent effect in literature (particularly by Melanie Tem, in Desmodus—vampires—and in Wilding—werewolves), I’m hard-pressed to think of a precedent in film. And though by the very nature of its premise and the average budget of an indie horror production, The Hamiltons is far more grounded and limited in scope than either of Tem’s novels, it certainly manages to carry its own weight, and much like The Abandoned, is decidedly unlike your average horror movie of the moment.
In point of fact, given that I can’t think of a film precedent in terms of The Hamiltons’ theme and approach, it’s quite unlike your average horror movie of any moment.
Which is why it won this round, and is, in my estimation, the best of the half-dozen After Dark Horrorfest titles I’ve seen thus far.

Which is not to say it’s perfect, mind you.
The script could have used a wee bit more tightening, and the performances could have been more nuanced (the fact that the twins seem to be ready to accept more filial responsibility at the same time Francis has his epiphany is quite possibly due to the fact that this is a big thing, their younger brother’s coming of age, but somehow that doesn’t quite come across, and the timing seems a tad convenient, as if we needed them to straighten out just that much, so we could have the ending that we do).
But in the big picture, those are merely suggestions that may have resulted in a better film. As it is now, The Hamiltons is already an exceptional piece of modern indie horror, and was acclaimed at both the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Malibu Film Festival.
And, as with some of the horror movies I’ve reviewed here, this is the kind of film that may confound those who come at the term “horror movie” with certain preconceived notions. But if you love your horror, you should at least give this one a shot.
If not for me, then for my iguana. It’ll comfort her to know someone else got their clock cleaned by The Hamiltons.

Parting shot: Reviews of the After Dark Horrorfest titles The Abandoned, Dark Ride, The Gravedancers, and Wicked Little Things, can be found in the Archive.

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