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Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse

Those who prefer no grit or edge to complement their suspense thrillers might enjoy Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse, a well-made but ultimately soft-boiled After School Special-type mystery. The first film from Peretti's popular tween market novel series "The Veritas Project," about a family of wholesome detectives who investigate (and debunk) supernatural crimes, Hangman's Curse finds the Springfield family team (David Keith and Mel Harris as Mom and Dad P.I., and Leighton Meester and Douglas Smith as the teenage sleuths) going undercover at Rogers High School, where it's suspected that the ghost of a decade-old student suicide is wreaking revenge on the school's current crop of jock bullies, a few of whom have been stricken with coma-inducing dementia. Suspicion immediately falls upon a pair of goth misfits, and the Springfields have to sort out the clues before clique tensions result in violence. For what it is — a Hardy Boys-style whodunit aimed at tweens with religious inclinations — Hangman's Curse is certainly above average in its production values, and the cast is very good (author Peretti, who appears as a maniacally quirky professor, excepted, with the mitigating factor that in the movie's accompanying featurette he seems exactly as annoying in real life). Those who are looking for heroes who recite "The Lord's Prayer" in times of crisis likely won't mind the obvious and frequent syrupy didacticism (although they may be freaked out by superficial occult references); other viewers are advised to look elsewhere (like the first three seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the exquisite standard-bearer of high school supernaturalia). Hangman's Curse's primary tone of good morals and decency notwithstanding, some of its other messages are a bit jumbled: The anti-bullying message is diluted by the unremorseful treatment of the bully-breeding coach, the conclusion's suggestion that the picked-on outcasts should try to fit in with their tormentors, and the teenage daughter's hands-off approach to teenage romance doesn't deter her from becoming romantically linked to a wannabe playa. Still, there are far worse things your 12-year-old could be watching. Fox presents Hangman's Curse in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, with 1.44:1 full screen on the flipside). Supplements include a couple of featurettes, one on spider-wrangling and the other on Peretti's involvement with the movie. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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