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The Hamiltons

What appears to be a suburban Donner Party becomes something even more disturbing in the Butcher Brothers' first joint film, "The Hamiltons." Cheeky horror is the tone for this archly surreal telling of how a family of peculiar siblings manages to raise themselves without their late parents.

With:
With: Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer, Mackenzie Firgens, Rebekah Hoyle, Brittany Daniel, Al Liner, Tara Glass, Jena Hunt.

What appears to be a suburban Donner Party becomes something even more disturbing in the Butcher Brothers’ first joint film, “The Hamiltons.” Cheeky horror is the tone for this archly surreal telling of how a family of peculiar siblings manages to raise themselves without their late parents, but the comedy is somewhat more slanted in the tradition of Tobe Hooper than Kevin Williamson. Midnight slots at fests and specialty cinemas are a no-brainer, and vid should spill some blood.

After a context-free opening sequence shows a young woman growing hysterical in a corpse-strewn basement, dissolute teen Francis Hamilton (Cory Knauf) narrates about his need to fit in with his family, and the confusion he feels in the wake of his parents’ sudden (unexplained) deaths.

Eldest bro David (Samuel Child) attempts to run the house, but he’s having a hard time reining in the ultra-aggressive Wendell (Joseph McKelheer), who splits his time between killing people and carrying on an incestuous relationship with his Goth-style twin sis Darlene (Mackenzie Firgens).

A pair of women (Rebekah Hoyle, Brittany Daniel) Wendell has bludgeoned unconscious are hanging by chains in the basement. Near the distressed damsels can be heard the sounds of a growling, unseen creature living in a cubbyhole. It’s all too much for Francis, who records the victims on his ever-present vid cam.

For about as long as it can, “The Hamiltons” refuses to play by most of the genre rules, and is best experienced as a ghoulish comedic take on the post-modern American family, in which the chain of command is up for grabs. For a while, it seems the clan survives by eating its victims, but the best trick deployed by the Butcher Brothers (the showbiz moniker for Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores) is to turn this presumption in a different direction just as Francis endures some macabre changes of his own.

Cast tends to play up the ironies too broadly, but the contained atmosphere of the house (where nearly the entire pic transpires) is an apt metaphor for collective madness. Michael Maley’s high-def lensing tends to wash out colors, which appears to be more a technical flaw than artistic choice.

The Hamiltons

Production: A San Francisco Independent Cinema presentation of an Altieri/Flores and Industrial City Films production. (International sales: Strategic Film Partners, Universal City.) Produced by Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores. Executive producers, Stan Holland, Ira Leemon, Michael Ferris Gibson, Oren Kaplan. Directed by the Butcher Brothers. Screenplay, the Butcher Brothers, Adam Weis.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Michael Maley; editor, Jesse Spencer; music, Joshua Myers; art director, Andrew Casden; costume designer, Alexis Tracy; makeup, Keri Picolla; sound, Nicholas Zasimczuk; sound designer, William Storkson; associate producer, Eddy Murillo. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, Feb. 9, 2006. (Also in Cinequest Film Festival.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With: With: Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer, Mackenzie Firgens, Rebekah Hoyle, Brittany Daniel, Al Liner, Tara Glass, Jena Hunt.

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