Hack! (2007)

It’s not a criticism that will often be levelled at films in general, but Hack! is a movie that needed to show its hand earlier. The first two-thirds of the film comes off as heavy handed, self-conscious, and completely lacking in style and intelligence. The final third, though, lets everything become openly farcical, and some of the humour starts to actually hit the mark. Horror comedies are hard things to pitch, and the horror in this movie doesn’t work, at all. The comedy is hit and miss, which does at least mean there are a few hits. Those few make it hard for me to really lay into Hack!; it’s a screenplay desperately in need of an editor that nonetheless manages to have a couple of great moments.

The story isn’t what you’d call original: a group of students head off to an island for the weekend and end up getting massacred. There’s some nonsense reason to get them there – they all seem to be film students, or at least film buffs, but apparently they’re on a biology field trip – which is soon abandoned in favour of doing what teenagers left alone always do in movies: drink, drugs, and casual sex. And getting killed.

Things start to get slightly more interesting when the killing starts, though, because it soon becomes apparent that the killer is deliberately recreating iconic moments from horror films through the ages. The movie scene recreations are about as faithful as those rubbish karaoke CDs you find in supermarket bargain bins; there’s some enough resemblance to the original to be recognisable, but the cover version is so laughably poor you’d never mistake it for something proper. They get more and more outlandish as time goes on (the samurai one is ridiculous, while the recreation of a scene from Ring sails right past ridiculous and somehow ends up at sublime) to the point where they’re spoofs rather than homages, and that’s when Hack! really shines. But that really would have worked a lot better if the characters and dialogue hadn’t been so dire from the beginning, or if it’d been made clear earlier on that things were about to get wacky. As it is, there’s a massive tonal shift partway through that’s jarring and, considering how annoying everything else in the movie is up until that point, not particularly welcome.

There are other flaws in Hack!. There’s a point where the sound goes screwy and everyone sounds like a Dalek, which is obviously down to some technical problem, but, um, shouldn’t that have been fixed prior to the film’s release? The lighting is pretty terrible throughout, and the acting is pretty abysmal – it’s great to see Juliet Landau in a non-Buffy the Vampire Slayer role, but she soon slips into Drusilla-isms, and even ends up in a Drusilla-style costume at one point, which is unfortunate. But those things probably could have been forgiven were it not for the dire script. And it is dire. The dialogue is painful, the characterisation non-existent, and it’s often unclear what’s going on or what’s supposed to be going on. There’s one well executed in-joke early on (“We’re going to need a bigger boat”) but that’s it, and it really stands out because it’s the only line that works. Everything else is hamfisted and feels scripted; someone really needed to read over it and turn it into words that people might actually say.

Another major annoyance is the fact that everyone is named after one horror icon or another. At some unspecified point in time, young filmmakers seem to have got it into their heads that character names should all be significant, and preferably contain references, and subtlety apparently doesn’t enter into the equation. Thus Hack! contains a Mr Argento, a Mr Bates, a Sheriff Stoker, a Mr Carpenter, and Mr and Mrs King, the latter of whom is actually named Mary Shelley King. That would be a painful set of names in any horror movie, but in one where the whole conceit is about copying horror movies, and in which the characters are supposed to be horror movie buffs, it’s just stupid. Even more so because “Mary Shelley” is commented upon, yet all the others aren’t referred to. Every time one of the kids says “Mr Argento” I just wanted to scream. It’s just so irritating.

On the whole, this movie is a waste of time. And yet something makes me want to not write off the writer/director as a complete failure; he might yet make a decent movie. He just desperately needs to get someone else involved at the writing stage, because this? Was bilge.

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