In horror movies – as, frankly, in real life – making prank phone calls is just asking for trouble. As far back as I Saw What You Did, bored teenagers bothering strangers with randomly-dialed practical jokes have invited an extreme, violent and probably psychotic response. Here, a krewe of especially callous jokesters – who post their PrankMonkey calls online for laffs and likes – get a protracted comeuppance over the course of a long night in a lavishly-appointed LA home.
A prologue shows a typical PrankMonkey stunt, waking up Mrs Kolbein (Sienna Guillory) in the middle of the night with a supposed call from the cops, claiming that her home has been invaded and her daughter is in danger – signing off with ‘you’ve been pranked, bitch’ and a montage of the lads cutting up on social media. Then, prime mover Brady Mannion (Garrett Clayton) turns up at the home of his long-time best pal Sam Fuller (Gregg Sulkin), who is upset because his girlfriend Peyton (Bella Dayne) has just reclassified their relationship online as ‘under discussion’. Though marginally reluctant, Sam is easily swayed into an evening of calling up folks to get the wrong pizzas hilariously delivered or amusingly telling parents their daughters have been killed in car accidents … before they get through to a raspy, sinister voice (Philip Desmeules) who identified himself as Mr Lee and has some of the sinister edge of the callers in Scream, Phone Booth or Compliance with a lot of the punitive attitude of Jigsaw.
Mr Lee keeps calling, and has control of the feeds and lights in the house – he also knows a lot about the PrankMonkeys, and has Brady’s parents tied to the familiar torture chairs in a darkened room. Scripted by Joe Johnson and directed by Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot, Don’t Hang Up takes a few net-paranoia licks from the recent run of screenshot horrors – one plot development parallels a key moment in Unfriended – but mostly avoids their found footagey look, with extraordinarily mobile camerawork (including a literal through-the-keyhole shot) and a lot of running around to cover the fact that it all takes place in and around a single home, which suffers the usual trashing (blood-spurts overlaying the pizza and beer debris).
It’s only 83 minutes long, which is probably a good thing because this can’t stretch to the sort of half-sympathy for folks doing dreadful things to each other you get in the likes of Cheap Thrills since it’s plain from the outset that the affluent, good-looking, snickering leading guys are truly appalling people. The effect is more like an episode of one of those Amicus horror anthologies based on EC comics or Robert Bloch stories in which nasty people get their come-uppance in a hideously appropriate manner. There is some glee in watching the main characters suffer, especially when Mr Lee – who eventually shows up in a blank mask (Parker Sawyers) – explains his own backstory … but waiting for Brady and Sam to cut each other to pieces as Mr Lee cannily tries to make separate deals with them hardly counts as suspenseful.