People can understandably become frightened and alarmed when they feel that someone, particularly an ominous stranger who they know nothing about, seeks joy in causing them irrevocable emotional and physical harm. When that danger finally appears to begin dissipating, the victims’ sense of self-consciousness also begins to dwindle, until they realize their opponent has never actually given up on preying on their vulnerabilities. That powerful exploration into the drastic measures people are willing to take in order to protect themselves and their families is grippingly presented in the new horror film, ‘Hangman.’

The thriller, which Alchemy distributed on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, had its World Premiere during the Midnighters section of last year’s SXSW. ‘Hangman,’ which was directed by Adam Mason, who also co-wrote the script with Simon Boyes, stars the alluring Jeremy Sisto. The actor, who also served as a producer on the movie, portrays a protective husband and father who will stop at nothing to ease the fear and pain his family has been contending with since they survived a traumatizing experience.

‘Hangman’ follows the title antagonist (Eric Michael Cole) as he watches the Miller family leave their car at the airport before they embark on their annual family vacation. While they’re away, the Hangman steals their car and subsequently breaks into their home and leaves a mess in his trail as he stays there. When the family, including married parents Aaron (Jeremy Sisto) and Beth (Kate Ashfield), and their adolescent kids, Marley (Ryan Simpkins) and Max (Ty Simpkins), return home, they discover their house has been broken into and vandalized, which includes a mannequin that has been left hanging in the couple’s bedroom closet.

After calling the police, the Millers believe the intruder has left their home. But unbeknownst to them, the Hangman has actually moved into their attic, where he watches the video cameras he has set up in nearly every room. He also roams throughout the house at night with a stocking over his head, and spies on the family while they’re asleep. Initially, his behavior is relatively harmless, but becomes more troubling towards Aaron, Beth and their children and friends. In one instance, the Hangman casually looks through the purse of one of Beth’s friends, Melissa (Amy Smart), during a dinner party, as he stands just a few feet away from the unsuspecting group.

While frightened by the constant feeling that something’s not quite right in their house and worried for their family, Beth suggests to Aaron that they buy a gun. Despite his initial concerns, he complies with her request and brings one home the next day. Meanwhile, the Hangman, whose intentions and motivations are never fully explained, showcases his damaged emotional state during such instances as when he begins crying uncontrollably while looking through one of the family’s photo albums. The Millers and their persistent intruder end up engaging on a relentless emotional and physical struggle to claim control over the family and their home, which leads to disastrous consequences.

Sisto generously took the time recently to talk about starring in, and producing, ‘Hangman’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor and producer discussed how Mason, who he’s friends with, approached him with the idea for the thriller. The SAG Award-nominated performer immediately felt it would be fun and intriguing as an actor to make a found footage movie that captures how people act when they think they’re not being watched. Sisto also mentioned how he formed an instant working relationship with Ashfield, and has known Ryan and Ty since they were young, so they all immediately developed a sense of what the Millers’ life would be like together.

ShockYa (SY): You play Aaron Miller, a father and husband who discovers that his family’s home was vandalized while they were on vacation, in the new thriller, ‘Hangman.’ What attracted you to the role, and how did you become involved in the film?

Jeremy Sisto (JS): My buddy, Adam Mason, who directed, and also co-wrote the film with Simon Boyes, approached me with the idea. It seemed like something that would be fun to play as an actor, because of the format of how we had to film it. We had to be able to set up a number of cameras, and set up a number of sequences without any cutting. That’s something you don’t get to do very often in films, so it seemed intriguing to me. I also thought it was a haunting idea and concept. So it was a project that I thought would have enough of an ingredient that I would be interested in exploring.

It was also strange in the way that we wanted to make it. We wanted to capture a feeling of how people act when they think they’re not being watched. We wanted the characters to lack a self-consciousness that people usually have when they know they’re being watched. That’s always something I’m striving for in my acting.

SY: What was your working relationship like with the film’s director, Adam Mason, who also co-wrote the script with Simon Boyes, both of whom you just mentioned? What was the process of building your character of Aaron and story with them?

JS: Well, we made the film for almost nothing. So we had a very small crew, and it was a real hands-on production for all of us. I don’t usually work that way on my films. But it was great working that way on this movie, especially since I was already friends with Adam and Simon. It allowed us to really find the tone of the movie.

The first draft of the script was pretty much where we wanted it to be, and we mainly stuck to that. The most discovery we later made during filming was with Eric Michael Cole, who played the Hangman. We worked to find how to give this bad guy this emotional psychosis that felt very unpredictable. So we filmed a lot of footage of Eric crying and screaming, and that was because we didn’t really didn’t know where to go first.

We also did a lot of things, like the wardrobe, on our own. I remember the first costume we had for Eric as the Hangman included dark clothes. But when we put the camera on night vision, and watched the footage back the next day, certain fabrics, no matter what color they were, looked completely white. So he looked like this big dough boy, white creature (laughs) as he was walking through the house. Since he didn’t look scary at all, we had to re-film all of those scenes. So this was really a trial-by-error production.

SY: Like you just mentioned, Eric Michael Cole plays the title Hangman in the film, but Aaron and his family don’t realize that he has stayed in their house after they returned from their vacation. While you don’t appear in many scenes with Eric in the thriller, what was the process of determining the relationship between the Hangman and Aaron and his family?

JS: Eric is one of my closest friends, and we have done about a dozen movies together. We weren’t in many scenes together in this film. But since I was also a producer on the movie, I was there for everything he filmed. It was my responsibility as a producer to help focus the intensity and effect of the bad guy in the movie.

**SPOILER ALERT** But my character, Aaron, wasn’t aware of the Hangman until the very end of the film, so we didn’t have a lot of scenes to prepare together as co-stars. I won’t give away the ending, but it wasn’t until the end that the conflict comes to fruition, and the characters go head-to-head. **END SPOILER ALERT**

I really enjoyed filming my part of the movie, because it’s really a day-in-the-life story of a relatable family. They’re a good, solid American family, so for me, that’s what the acting part of the film was.

I was proud of what Adam and Simon were able to do and put together. I think the film features a unique killer. Overall, it’s a unique movie that features characters and a story that I haven’t seen before.

SY: Besides playing Aaron in the film, you also served as one of its producers, like you also mentioned. What interested you in also producing the thriller?

JS: Well, I have worked on a couple of other horror movies as an actor. My wife doesn’t watch horror movies, so I don’t see them very often anymore. (laughs)

But I had just finished producing, co-writing and starring in another movie before I started working on this one, (a sports comedy) called ‘Break Point.’ That was a very long process to get done and set up.’

This film offered me the opportunity to work without having a long set-up. I think that’s what drew me to this experience. I was going through producing and acting in this film, without having to go through all the politics of filmmaking. This film also allowed me to really focus on producing, and focusing on things that you may miss when you have a whole production team.

SY: In your scenes in ‘Hangman,’ you mainly interacted with Kate Ashfield, who plays Beth, Aaron’s wife, as well as Ryan Simpkins and Ty Simpkins, who play their adolescent daughter and son, Marley and Max. What was your collaboration process with them on the horror film, and building the familial bonds between your characters?

JS: Kate signed onto the film at the last minute, but we immediately had a great rapport. We immediately had this sense of what this couple would be like together. I’ve known Ryan and Ty since they were young. Ryan had actually played my daughter in a play on Broadway about 10 years ago. So we already had a working relationship together, which made it easier for me to get back into the parental role with her.

So there was a pretty easy dynamic between all of us. Everyone was up for building these relationships. No one was shying away from how the film was being made. Although at times, it definitely felt as though we were just a couple of friends who were getting together to do something fun. It didn’t feel as though we were making a normal movie, and everyone embraced that. That’s become a part of the industry that I really love.

SY: Before you began filming the thriller, did you do any research on how families have reacted in home invasion situations that were similar to what happened to the Millers?

JS: Well, we wanted the Millers to feel like a very real, relatable family. So I didn’t reach out of my own comfort zone, and do a lot of research. But the story was inspired by an article that we read, in which a homeless man was living inside a crawlspace in someone’s house for years.

SY: ‘Hangman’ is told in the found footage subgenre. With that type of cinematography and style becoming popular over the past decade, particularly in horror, how did you work to make the subgenre unique to the Millers’ story?

JS: Well, we wanted to achieve a feeling in the audience that they’re watching something that they shouldn’t be watching. The characters are acting in a realistic way that people do when they don’t know they’re being observed. That was one of the appealing factors of the movie for me.

SY: Since ‘Hangman’ is mainly set in the Millers’ home, what was the process of primarily working on one location? Did you shoot the thriller in an actual home?

JS: Securing the locations is always a big issue with this little movies, as they cost money. We were lucky enough to have one of our producers offer us her house. Her husband wasn’t too stoked about the arrangement, but we made it work. I think we shot the whole film in about a week, but we still had to take over their house. So we definitely owe a debt of gratitude to our producer, Mary Church, for offering her house to us.

SY: The horror movie had its world premiere at last year’s SXSW. What was the experience of bringing the film to the festival? How did audiences react to the thriller?

JS: The festival circuit was great. SXSW is one of my favorite festivals, and it’s always a joy going down there. Horror fans are some of the best fans in the world. They’re so nice and sweet. (laughs) They’re also so respectful and in love with the medium that they really welcome you into the community.

SY: The ending ‘Hangman’ sets up the possibility of a sequel. Are you interested in collaborating on a follow-up, particularly as a producer, and further develop the hangman’s backstory?

JS: There has definitely been conversation about making a sequel. We put a lot of creative focus on this film, but it’s definitely a concept that can be very open to expanding the series. We could really expand the format and idea for a sequel.

The plan was to make a series. One thing we didn’t use in the first film was a family that has a lot of ulterior motives that you’re able to see as the audience, but the relatives weren’t privy to those secrets. So it would be fun to see the drama unfold between a family that has a lot of secrets. That type of family can show how a family wants to be seen, and how they’re actually seen, by their relatives. So it would be interesting to see the gap form between them because of those secrets in a sequel.

SY: How did the fact that the film was told from a found footage point-of-view, is chiefly located in the Millers’ home and is a horror-driven story affect your physicality in the role?

JS: The process of creating the physicality on this film was great. Sometimes you really have to manufacture naturalism for takes that only last for 10 seconds. But we didn’t have to manufacture that naturalism for this film. We could do three or four takes in a row without cutting. So that was a very unique experience, and if anything, made it easier.

SY: Besides ‘Hangman,’ you have also appeared in several other horror films throughout your career, such as ‘Wrong Turn.’ What is it about the genre that you enjoy starring in it? Are you interested in continuing with the horror genre in the future?

JS: Yes, I actually have another horror movie coming out in a couple of weeks. It’s a (20th Century) Fox movie, and it’s called ‘The Other Side of the Door.’ It’s about a couple who moves to India. The story also explores what happens if they have a child who dies. Through some mystical Indian religion, a mother tries to speak to the spirit of her son. I play the boy’s father, and the son comes back and starts haunting us. So the couple becomes caught in the middle of these two evil worlds.

So horror is a genre that’s viable to people. These are the types of movies that people are going to see in the multiplexes. Fortunately, there are a lot of different subgenres that you can fit into the overall horror genre. ‘Hangman’ felt very real and had it’s own unique style, so I was really excited to be a part of it. The horror element was the stage that we put the whole story on.

SY: Besides starring in films, you have also appeared on several television series throughout your career, including ‘Six Feet Under,’ ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Suburgatory.’ What is it about television that you enjoy working on it so much? How does acting on television compare and contrast to performing in films?

JS: There are definitely some differences between the two mediums. One of the major differences is that there’s always new material that’s being written for television series. TV is an on-going process, so you don’t always have time to sit with the script. But it is also a more fluid experience, as you’re allowing the story to play out in real time. But that also means that you don’t always know where your character is going, which is exciting for me as an actor. It’s great to also receive those new scripts, especially when the actors and writers are on the same page.

But films are lovely, too, as there’s more of a sense of preciousness when it comes to the story and the characters’ arc. Most movies have to crescendo to a certain level that’s beyond what certain television shows get to do. That’s why movies, instead of television shows, end up showing such big things as a big chase scene. So as an actor, both mediums are fun, and have their own respective benefits.

Interview: Jeremy Sisto Talks Hangman (Exclusive)
Photo Credit: Alchemy

Written by: Karen Benardello

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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