Though they can't hold a candle to the horrors generated by his own family dynamic, Judge Bill Gibron still appreciated the subtle scares offered by this AfterDark Horrorfest offering.
The family that slays together…
Ever since their parents' death, The Hamiltons have had to move from town to town. It's not a matter of economics. It's a question of criminality. Apparently, oldest son David has a hard time controlling twin siblings Wendell and Darlene, especially since both have a lethal tendency to push the boundaries of acceptable social behavior. There's usually a trail of blood and bodies involved. The constant clashing between the three really bothers introverted and isolated Francis, who can only find solace in his hobby of amateur moviemaking. Desperate to differentiate himself from the rest of his relatives, he reaches out to a local social worker. But it's too late—corpses are again starting to pile up in the crawlspace, and Francis is convinced that, no matter how hard he tries, he is destined to become just another murderous member of The Hamiltons' horrible brood.
It happens every once in a while—a movie will meander along, seemingly making little or no sense. It will try your patience with its apparently disconnected ideas and its desperate desire to keep narrative clarity and helpful plot points under wraps. Characters will grate on your last cinematic nerve and the typically short running time will start to drag like a visit to your maiden aunt in the nursing home. Before long, you've totally given up on finding anything of real entertainment or interest value. Then, it happens. The ending arrives, providing that missing piece of the puzzle, the one element that has kept you irritable and cranky all film long - and, suddenly, you're satisfied. Nay, you're impressed. Indeed, it is so rare that a movie can pull off this final-minute denouement that you simultaneously shake your head and wonder why you didn't see the reveal coming long before the eventual exposure. Call it "M. Night Shyamalan Shock"—or The Sixth Sense Syndrome—but it definitely defies the odds. With The Hamiltons, one of the better installments in AfterDark's recent 8 Films to Die For Horrorfest, filmmakers The Butcher Brothers (actually production partners Phil Flores and Mitchell Altieri) craft a clever take on the family drama. As a result, they deliver a movie that will keep you guessing—and yes, kvetching—all the way to the final fade-out.
It's a major gamble, the kind of double down and draw that often hobbles most low-budget efforts. It has to be noted, once again, that the main storyline we are forced to follow here is full of so many unanswered (and for all practical matters, unexplainable) issues that it's impossible to see how they'll ever be resolved. But with the twist—and its telltale implications—we find ourselves almost accepting all that's come before: the icky incest; the random killings and oddball dinner scenes; the flashes of homosexual murder; and the tepid teen angst that seems to flow through every sequence like outtakes from a home-movie version of American Beauty. Indeed, one of The Hamiltons' major flaws is the desire to deal with every situation in a calm, nearly static manner. This is a very talky film, with lots of innuendo-laced conversations taking the place of macabre mandated blood and gore. Even more disquieting, the family is never fleshed out. Their personality dynamic is handled in a stumbling, sketchpad fashion, glimpses of potential character contrasted with the direction's moody meandering. You can tell the Butchers are merely milking the unusual elements of their story for maximum creep factor, but since we never really care about the dilemmas facing the brood—remember, they're not explained until the end—we're more aggravated than intrigued.
Still, as stated before, the ending does save it—if just barely. Indeed, if you don't like whiny talentless teens complaining about their sorry lot in life while constantly filming the world around them with a handy digital camera (which, of course, provides plenty of POV insert shots), then you'll definitely despise our lumbering lead Francis. Similarly, the notion of a goony Goth gal and her reckless throwback sibling bumping uglies looks like it belongs in a post-modern exploitation film, not some somber scare saga. Since they have to keep so much of the subtext secret, our filmmakers get flustered and try to get by on atmosphere and tone alone. Sometimes, this scenario can work. At other instances, we are left pondering scenes seemingly forged out of cinematic Sanskrit. In a genre that has recently celebrated a renaissance—albeit one caked in claret and given over to moments of unbridled brutality—it is hard for a horror film to survive on subtlety. With its Texas Chainsaw meets Ed Gein/John Wayne Gacy vibe, The Hamiltons has lots of disturbing dimensions contained within this material. But The Hamiltons has to rely on a ruse to get you through the rough bits. If you don't buy it, you'll be cursing the film's many foibles. Get it and you'll forgive, forget, and find yourself quietly amused. Of the eight efforts in the AfterDark series, this may look the most amateurish, but compared to the abysmal hackwork on display throughout, The Hamiltons is actually one of Horrorfest's best.
Brought to DVD as part of a new deal with Lionsgate, The Hamiltons has its issues. Obviously created on a shoestring, the single set (a sparse, and sort of spooky old house) and the lack of real visual flair can be viewed as complaints. But the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image does a decent job of giving this movie a real cinematic feel. The transfer is soft, with some color contrast issues in the interior vs. exterior sequences. Still, the overall print is professional and comparable to other presentations in this series. Even better, the atmospheric Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix (there is also a commendable 2.0 Stereo version) adds a great deal of moody ambience to the film. Dialogue is always easily discernible and the musical choices (including some odd indie alt-rock tunes) do a good job of selling the sentiments involved. As for added content, we are treated to some deleted scenes (obviously removed to keep the movie's secret in check), a selection of bloopers (more mistakes than jokes), and a full-length audio commentary from the Butcher Brothers and actor Cory Knauf (who essayed Francis). It's an informative discussion with lots of detail about the production, the cast, and the creative choices made within the storyline. Overall, Lionsgate does a good job with this release—especially compared with other AfterDark titles.
While they'll definitely never give the legendary Sawyers a run for their repugnance, The Hamiltons do manage to make their case for a craven family filled with sinister, unsettling secrets. The less you know about the plot, the better, however. In fact, it's the only way this otherwise awkward horror film will work. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Full-length audio commentary with directors The Butcher Brothers and actor Cory Knauf
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