Keeping Horror in the Family with "The Hamiltons" [REVIEW]
The Hamiltons opens with a scene familiar to any horror fan: a dazed and scantily clad young woman (Sweet Valley High’s Brittany Daniel), moving about a dark and dank room in search of an escape, stumbling upon dead bodies, and frightened by a knocking sound coming from behind a padlocked door. After she meets a presumably messy end, the film switches to an altogether different theme: family life.
Meet the Hamiltons, a family of orphaned siblings struggling to survive without their deceased parents to guide them. The eldest, David, is a self-styled Mr. Rogers clone who puts on an overly friendly front for neighbors and social workers who come calling to check in on the broken family. Twins Wendell and Darlene are sarcastic and mean, constantly tormenting their older and younger siblings by breaking household rules and causing fights, all the while engaged in a seemingly incestuous relationship with one another. The younger brother Francis (Cory Knauf), the seeming protagonist of the film, seems hardest hit by the loss of their parents, unable to adjust to life without them and feeling set apart from what is left of the family.
Viewing his family through the lens of a video camera, Francis attempts to understand them by making a film for a school project, though he constantly skips school and impersonates David on the telephone to call himself in sick. It is clear the young man feels out of place, unable to connect with the remaining members of his family on any level. Feeling very much like a family drama, The Hamiltons might seem as though it were not a horror movie at all – if not for the two women chained up in the basement, and the mysterious Lenny locked away in a crawlspace. The Hamiltons have more to worry about than family dysfunction; they have a very big secret to keep.
Older brother David’s skills as a slaughterhouse cutter seem to come in handy when preparing the young women locked in the basement for their purpose, though that exact purpose seems clouded in mystery for much of the film. It is clear the victims are not the first, and David declares more than once that he provides for the family as best he can – with the help of Wendell, who had lured in the latest victims. Only when sister Darlene brings home new friend Kitty (Jena Hunt) and she falls victim to the young lady of the Hamilton household and her rapacious brother does it become clear just who and what the Hamiltons really are. Young Francis’ difficulty in assimilating to his family’s lifestyle after the death of his parents takes on a whole new meaning in the face of the reveal, and his developing attraction to one of the girls chained in the basement threatens to expose the entire family’s secret.
What makes The Hamiltons a very interesting film is that it takes the true to life drama and dysfunction of a broken family, something that nearly everyone encounters once or twice in a lifetime, and translates it to the more typically expected horror themes. Even the things that go bump in the night have to deal with the day to day struggle, it would seem, and their existence is even more threatened when their family problems create new avenues for their secrets to be discovered. Francis presents as a sympathetic character, and the audience can’t help but commiserate with his struggle, reversing the usual roles of horror film villain and hero.
“If monsters were real,” Wendell muses at one point in the film, “They’d be a lot different than they are on tv.” This is never more true than in The Hamiltons, which shapes up to be an interesting and clever take on the usual monsters-in-our-midst theme.
The film was featured in the first After Dark Horrorfest “8 Films to Die For” festival in 2006; the sequel, The Thompsons, is already in post-production and slated for DVD release on December 31, 2012.
Starring: Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Mackenzie Firgens, Joseph McKelheer
Director: Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores (as The Butcher Brothers)
Writers: Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores (as The Butcher Brothers), Adam Weis