Movie Short Review: ‘The Hangman’

Review by James Lindorf

Since its release, The Hangman has been racking up festival nominations and awards all over the world, including Best Foreign Film at last week’s L.A. Shorts festival. Now it has turned its sights on the film world’s most significant award, The Oscars. The first step is performing well at Oscar-qualifying festivals HollyShorts in Los Angeles and Urbanworld in New York.

Set during the height of Apartheid in 1989, a prisoner is transferred to death row on the eve of his execution. Prison guard Khetha comes face to face with his father, a man he hasn’t seen since he was 11 years old. The truth of Mfundisi’s disappearance finally surfaces and Khetha must choose between forgiveness or holding on to his hatred. The Hangman was written and directed by Zwelethu Radebe and stars Thato Dhladhla (Thina Sobabili: The Two of Us). The film was shot in South Africa, is presented entirely in Zulu with English subtitles, and will screen at Hollyshorts on Friday, August 17th

The Hangman is a beautifully done film that fully embraces its brutality. Every character is either an awful person or has had their life ruined by one of those dreadful people. The story centers around Khetha and his anger over his abandonment. Racism, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and justice are also all themes of the movie. There will be others that say some of those elements are unnecessary, but I would disagree. I think it is essential to show the racial divide during Apartheid and how prisoners were degraded and abused in every possible way while they waited to be hanged.

Radebe explores the depths of human depravity, our capacity forgiveness, and the damage lies can do. Even though Khetha and his parents’ story is heartbreaking, I wish the film was longer, giving us time to connect with the characters even more. I don’t know if The Hangman will be nominated for an Oscar, but it is worth all the attention it has gotten to this point.

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