Posted on July 5, 2017

Don’t Hang Up: Teens and Social Media


2016  |  R  |  83 min  |  Directors: Damien Macé & Alexis Wajsbrot  |  Writer: Joe Johnson  |  UK

Grade:  A-

Don’t Hang Up scares some sense into social media obsessed teens.

Synopsis: A few millennial pranksters take crank calls to the next level while trying to achieve internet stardom. They soon find out the hard way that there are very real life repercussions for their actions.

Don’t Hang Up is a really good film. I was super excited to see a horror film that is rated “R” as that in itself has become as likely as finding a unicorn.  This film evokes many of the better elements of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) combining pranks, poor choices, and a few selfish kids. Remember the opening scene in Scream when Casey Becker gets a prank phone call? Well, imagine that on crack and you have Don’t Hang Up.

Most thrilling about this film is the commentary on social media use. Don’t Hang Up tells a tale of a handful of teenage boys who video themselves making pretty vicious prank phone calls for the purpose of getting “likes” online.  When bad things happen, we could superficially assume that their horror-trope indiscretion was exploiting others for personal gain.  However, this film is actually much more complex than that. Social media and technology greatly enhance the cat-and-mouse component within this film.

Because of their obsession with the online community, the teenagers in Don’t Hang Up fail to see what is happening in the real world around them. Sam Fuller (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady Mannion (Garrett Clayton) are the focus of this film although there are two others who make prank calls with them. Their pursuer taunts the teens, “Don’t you want the attention, that’s why you post your little videos online, isn’t it?” Posting, checking, liking, and following leaves them exposed to external, or should I say, real-life followers: teenagers who don’t pick their heads up from their phones certainly won’t notice subtle changes in their environment. And these self-absorbed teenagers are so concerned with documenting their lives that they willingly hand over their privacy to the outside world.[1] In a world of oversharing, it doesn’t take much to know when someone is alone, who they are hanging out with, and who their friends are—all based upon their social media footprint.

Technology serves as a conduit for horror. We live in a world of gadgets. In many cases, we link all of our technology together. Think of Alexa, Echo, Google Home and the plethora of other things which we link to our internet or our phones. Knowing this, it is not unreasonable to think that a stranger could use the technology within our home against us.[2] In Don’t Hang Up, the antagonist is able to gain greater access to the teenagers through their technologies: phones, laptops, computers, etc. While I am not in the business of victim-blaming, the kids in Don’t Hang Up open themselves to horrible things by using technology to document their crimes while simultaneously exposing their vulnerabilities. But let us not forget that none of this would be happening if these kids weren’t so self-absorbed.

The entitlement and selfishness of the teenagers in this movie cannot be dismissed. This speaks to Dawn’s review when she argues, “Teen selfishness is being paid for by the selflessness of their parents, fostered, in fact, by the selflessness of parents… Teens expect their parents to be selfless so they themselves can wallow in shameless attention only to self.”  I think this point is further emphasized by the playing of the lullaby “Hush Little Baby” in the backdrop of the film.  The lullaby is all about the selfless parent giving all they have to their child:

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird won’t sing, Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass, Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass…
…So hush little baby, don’t you cry, Daddy loves you and so do I.

While the parents are minimally present in this film, I have no reason to believe that they are not good parents. It is not lost on me that the kids in Don’t Hang Up are of certain means and have the luxuries to afford rampant self-absorption. It is exactly this egotism, coupled with technology and social media that creates a perfect storm. And let us not forget that not only teenagers suffer from such affliction. At one point, Brady makes a dismissive comment about his adversary “He’s probably some 400 pound nerd with too much computer equipment for his own good,” which evokes similarly afflicted adults in our own world.[3]

[1] This site goes in to detail about some of the dangers of oversharing online.

[2] I had to laugh as this evoked images of Kellyann Conway suggesting in March 2017 that Trump could be “wiretapped” via a microwave.  It also evokes the esurance commercial aptly titled “Haunted House.”

[3] First Presidential Debate Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump September 26, 2016. Trump states, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

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1 Comment

  • Reply Nancy Hofmann July 6, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    This is one horror film I want to see. Thanks for making that happen!!

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