Horror Thriller Drama
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The Hamiltons (2006)
1st Jul 07
The Hamiltons are just a normal, everyday American family getting on with their lives after the death of their parents. Normal that is, apart from the two girls tied up in their basement…
With a name like The Butcher Brothers I had visions of a pair of dodgy geezers selling snuff movies outside The Queen Vic, but the intriguingly monikered writing / directing duo of Mitchell Altieri & Phil Flores are in fact neither brothers, nor indeed butchers. Hailing from San Francisco the two friends reportedly made their first film together after finding a film camera near a car accident.
The Hamiltons is their most recent picture and arrives on these shores on the back of a healthy buzz after the movie was picked up by After Dark Films in the US, the same distributors behind recent cause-célèbre Captivity.
Our narrator and focal point for the duration of the film is Francis (Knauf), the youngest member of the family. He supposedly has to shoot a video for a college project which conveniently gives the filmmakers an excuse to show what it’s like living with his siblings from Francis’ unique viewpoint. We’re quickly introduced to the rest of the Hamilton clan; there’s David (Child), the eldest, most responsible one, and the bullying pair of Wendell (McKelheer) and Darlene (Firgens) who used to lock Francis in the closet when he was a young lad. The four have them have been moving from town to town ever since their parents died and their farm was sold.
Despite outward appearances to the contrary, it’s soon abundantly clear that the Hamiltons are the epitome of a dysfunctional family. David’s homosexuality is frowned upon so he’s forced to arrange clandestine meetings with other men away from the house, whilst Wendell and Darlene seem to enjoy an unnaturally close relationship suggesting they’re much more than just twins. And then there’s the matter of the two girls tied up in their basement. A-ha, so now we’re beginning to understand just why this is their sixth home in two years, don’t you think?
The unfortunate victims are Sam and Jenna, two friends on a road trip who had the misfortune of running into Wendell on their journey. Before long they’re trussed up in the basement and we’re all ready for things to turn nasty… except The Hamiltons is not quite what it first appears. Whilst the cover art suggests this is just another bandwagon-jumping slice of ‘torture-porn’, the reality is actually somewhat different and all the more interesting for it. To say anything further would spoil the film’s twist, so I’ll leave you to discover that on your own, but suffice to say it involves the mysterious Lenny. Did I mention Lenny? We don’t know who or what Lenny is, but he’s also down in the basement under lock and key, and he’s clearly very hungry…
Viewers expecting a visceral bloodbath will be left disappointed as, for the most part, the movie is a slow-paced clinical study of an isolated family. It’s the revelation of their big secret (which to be fair, doesn’t take a lot of imagination) by which the film lives or dies. For me, it saves the picture, providing a meaningful context which begs some sympathy for the characters and their actions, yet its greatest asset is also its biggest flaw. The whole family is complicit to what takes place beneath the stairs, yet only Francis expresses any remorse – “I just wish they’d catch us and it would all be over with” – so I found it especially difficult to feel anything but disdain towards Wendell and Darlene who are portrayed as cold, calculating tormentors throughout. Certain films (The Devil’s Rejects, Natural Born Killers) can make you root for the anti-heroes but it’s a lot harder to argue the case in this instance.
For a film with a largely unknown cast (Sweet Valley High’s Brittany Daniel appears solely in the pre-credits sequence) it was always going to be tough for The Hamiltons to break out to find a mass audience. The directing style of the up-and-coming Butcher Brothers adds little in the way of flair or any genuine moments of terror to the proceedings, yet as storytellers they do show some promise. It’s their clever bending of genre cliché that lifts the film out of the bargain basement and makes it a more interesting prospect than it initially appears. How they’ll cope with a proposed re-telling of April Fool’s Day remains to be seen, but with this film, contrary to expectations, they offer an alternative to the nihilistic pictures which are currently dominating the marketplace.