Hanky Panky


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hanky Panky
"A spirited little film which sustains its central premise surprisingly well."

Why is it that some B-movies are genuinely fun to watch whilst others make no more impression than bad wallpaper? It’s not the plot – some of those with thin plots work whilst others are thickly plotted but still don’t succeed in making viewers care. It’s not the action – sad to say, one can stuff a film with killer sharks and giant monsters, chainsaws and explosions, and still have it fall flat. It’s not necessarily the acting – competent actors are a plus, but bad ones can still be fun to watch, and sometimes films seem to suck all the talent out of otherwise capable stars. In fact there is only one thing that consistently makes the difference between success and failure, and that’s how much the filmmakers care.

Making a film on a small budget takes a lot of commitment. Some people treat it purely as a way to make a living, dragging themselves through the process over and over again, uninspired. For others, it’s the very stuff of life. Most of the time, love for a project behind the scenes translates into magic onscreen, that intangible quality that makes us laugh along rather than looking away in embarrassment, makes us root for even the most clumsily sketched of characters and makes bad dialogue and special effects fun. A lot of love has gone into Hanky Panky, and although there are still parts of it where you will squirm – directors Lindsey Haun and Nick Roth work hard to earn that – it’s remarkably watchable. To date, it is one of 2024’s silliest success stories.

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Jacob DeMonte-Finn brings pathos and heart to the straight-man role of Sam, a shy, socially anxious man whose best friend is his pocket handkerchief, Woody. One day he finds himself invited – by accident, as it turns out – to a remote mountain cabin where a group of friends have gathered to get to know themselves better and try to save the marriage of ill-suited couple Carla (Christina Laskay) and Cliff (Anthony Rutowicz). Introductions over dinner make it plain how out of place he is, but his expertise on the subject of fabric attracts the interest of perky but lonely Diane (Ashley Holliday Tavares), and things begin to look up.

Woody, however, is deeply uncomfortable. He keeps trying to warn Sam that something is wrong. Is there a threat from OTT baked goods delivering, fake-Southern accented neighbour Kelly (Clare Grant), who might be a spy? Could Cliff’s brother, the friendly yet mysterious Dr Crane (Roth), whose wife stays curiously out of sight, be up to something? Or should he be worried about their hosts, brother and sister Rebecca (Haun) and Norm (Toby Bryan), who whisper to one another under the table about the need to make a sacrifice? Sam actually doesn’t care. A woman likes him, so he’s prepared to let everything else slide. Until, that is, drink and magic mushrooms and anxiety medication enable other characters to start hearing Woody’s voice, and he is forced to re-evaluate everything he believed.

“Lilith, my wife, had her reservations about coming and I just said ‘We are going to a cabin in the mountains this weekend if it kills us all,’” says Doctor Crane, and you can guess at least some of where this is going.

Although it overplays some scenes and occasionally struggles with pacing, this is a spirited little film which sustains its central premise surprisingly well and concludes with one of the silliest battles for the fate of humanity that you’re likely to have seen in quite some time. Its limitations are clear, with the sound balance an issue in some early scenes and flat lighting in others not helped by glare from the snow, but the directors acquit themselves fairly well, managing to keep our focus where it needs to be and not get too distracted by the beauty of the landscape. The wilder bursts of humour, likely to be divisive, are balanced by droll observational scenes designed to restore viewer perspective, and throughout there is an acute awareness of audience expectations and the comedic options offered by the genre.

To say that this is a film you’ll enjoy more when inebriated – and preferably in the company of others in a similar state – is not to diminish it. It has a clear target audience and plays to it well. If this is what Haun and Roth can do on a shoestring (and with the string often visible in shot), it would be interesting to see if they could retain their inventiveness when given more opportunity.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2024
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Hanky Panky packshot
A man and his sentient handkerchief best friend visit a remote mountain cabin and discover that only they can save the Earth.

Director: Lindsey Haun, Nick Roth

Writer: Nick Roth

Starring: Jacob DeMonte-Finn, Christina Laskay, Ashley Holliday Tavares, Nick Roth, Clare Grant, Lindsey Haun, Anthony Rutowicz, Toby Bryan

Year: 2023

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US


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