David Keith, Mel Harris, Leighton Meester,
Douglas Smith, Daniel Farber, Jake Richardson, Andrea Morris,
Edwin Hodge, Toni Elizabeth Schilling, Kristin Cowan, Margaret
Travolta, Billy Moses and Frank Peretti
BASED ON THE NOVEL:
Hangman's Curse, by Frank Peretti
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By Holly McClure
When Frank Peretti was young, he had an operation to remove
a growth on his neck and part of his face that made him look different,
subsequently setting him up for bullying, taunting and ridicule throughout
his school experience. After Columbine he felt it was time to write
about this painful subject through a fiction book that would entail
some of the pain and suffering kids go through everyday when they
are bullied and picked on it school.
"This story sprang from my own experiences as a child, I was
bullied unmercifully and it continues to go on in every school in
America today which is why I wrote this story," said Peretti,
"unfortunately, we've seen what bullying can do and where it
can lead, with school shootings and other horrible events." In
fact, Frank even plays one of his own characters, the eccentric Professor
Algernon Wheeling, in a very eccentric way. If the school principle
played by Margaret Travolta looks familiar, that's because she's the
sister of John Travolta.
Plot: When a small town high school has several star football
players suddenly turn ill with hallucinations, call out the name of
a boy who hung himself years earlier, then turn violently ill and
wind up on life support systems, the authorities decide its time to
call in The Veritas Project. The Springfields, Nate (David Keith),
Sarah (Mel Harris) and their teen-age twins Elisha (Leighton Meester
) and Elijah (Douglas Smith), are a family of private investigators
under the code name, The Veritas Project (Veritas means truth), who
specialize in going undercover to solve mysterious occurrences. As
Elisha and Elijah infiltrate the different social groups, they quickly
discover who's popular and who's not, as the bullying and tension
among those social classes increase. Nate goes undercover as a school
janitor and observes the coach allowing his athletes to pick on the
strange looking Goth kids. He also discovers a straw with a crystal
substance in a boys gym bag, along with the drawing of a hangman that
the team is convinced is making kids hallucinate and think they see
the ghost of Abel Frye. Sarah is in charge of research and calls upon
a family friend and research lab specialist, Professor Algernon, to
find out what the substance is and if it can hurt anyone. The Veritas
investigation uncovers a pattern; the appearance of a hangman in the
next victim's locker. At the same time they discover Goth kids getting
into witchcraft, thinking it will give them powers to fight off the
bullies. Time is running out as the Springfields spring into action
to find out who will be the next victim to fall prey to the Hangman's
Good: Take a hip pair of teenagers, trained with special spy
skills and loaded with lots of fun gadgets. Pair them with two very
cool parents, trained to back them up and help solve their dilemmas
and you have an exciting combination that is the premise for Frank
Peretti's latest novel. The story is aimed at the older adolescent
and teen market in a high school setting, so the situations and events
are obviously ones that kids and teens that age will relate to. Producers
Ralph Winter, Joe Goodman and Bobby Neutz have created a new category
for their movie, they call it, a 'family thriller.' Indeed the story
has several intense and thrilling scenes like; kids hallucinating
and seeing Abel Frye's ghost, Elisha gets stuck in a ventilation shaft
with scary creatures, several school fights, etc. As well as a few
scary moments; costumed people gather in a witching chamber to cast
spells on various students, a couple of kids hallucinate and another
scary plot point (I've been sworn to secrecy not to give it away but
you'll jump and get creeped out, I promise). It's the family moments
that take this story in a different direction than most thrillers;
caring parents, family discussions, prayer at mealtimes, strong family
values and they all work together.
Because the story is aimed at your older kids to high school age audience,
it has an edgier look and feel to it. Peretti has woven a complicated
"who-done-it" mystery into a story the younger generation
can relate to and be passionate about. The message focuses on the
effects our actions have on others and the consequences for everyone
when cruelty and ridicule wound the spirits of tormentor and victim
alike. The story deals with issues about; bullying, prejudice, witchcraft,
elitism, picking on others, interracial dating and judging people
just because they look different. The surprise twist at the end reveals
just how far teenagers will go when repeatedly wounded by others and
how devastating that unforgiveness can be. And when the truth is revealed,
I hope there will be many students who'll vow to change the world
around them, go back to their schools and treat kids differently in
hopes of making a difference.
Bad: Parents, I'm calling this a family thriller but it's not
kiddie-friendly. I don't think this is a movie you'll want to take
your little ones age 8 and under to, it's too intense and too much
plot for them to follow. This isn't a big budgeted, Hollywood horror
film with all of the bells and whistles, so don't try to judge or
compare it on that basis. But it's also not a small budgeted "Christian"
film with an overt Christian message (in fact the few "Christian"
parts are mainly at the end) so don't discount it as that either.
This is the first of Frank Peretti's books to be made into a movie,
so the look and feel of it plays like a teenage mystery novel with
interesting plot twists, exciting "spy" action, a wonderful
cast of characters and a valuable lesson that will hopefully change
a few hearts and minds in the end. For those who are curious about
the "ghost" factor, Abel Frye did not kill a girl as rumored;
he hung himself at the school because he had been tormented by his
classmates. The opening scene shows Abel climbing the stairs to hang
himself, we see his swinging shadow against the wall and there are
a few scenes of Abel's ghostly face appearing to several students
who are hallucinating.
Bottom Line: Parents, please get your adolescent age kids and
teens to see this movie, I think they'll be pleasantly surprised at
how it relates to their world and will speak to their hearts and minds.
I applaud the people behind this film; Ralph Winter, Jerry Rose with
TLN Network, Joe Goodman, Bobby Neutz and Rich Cowan who fought to
get this movie made because they believe it can be life-changing for
our younger generation. They took a chance on daring to be different
by using Peretti's story filled with subtle biblical themes and packaging
it in an unusual and unconventional movie aimed at reaching kids and
teens. Another great example of how God is using Christians to make
a difference in Hollywood!
Holly McClure writes movie reviews for Crosswalk.com.
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