October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!
Note: Due to exhaustion on the author’s part, today’s entry, which was actually supposed to be published last Friday, will be shorter than usual. Rather than wait and agonize over an ever-growing backlog, I’m finishing this entry and publishing it Monday. But don’t worry – I’ll be writing plenty of posts for Werebeast Week!
Hello and welcome to Hell Is Other People* week here at Late to the Theater! This week’s selections are all about the biggest threat facing modern mankind –other people. All this week’s selections take place in Suburbia, and while they might feature supernatural flourishes, people tend to be the at the root of the problem. So throw some plastic flamingos on your lawn and turn up the music; we’re going to get a visit from the concerned people at our HOA**!
Today’s entry is 2016’s Hush, a horror thriller by the husband and wife team of Mike Flanagan and Katie Siegel. In the interest of discussion, it will contain spoilers!
The premise of Hush is simple: a woman has to survive a siege on her house from a sadistic killer. Maddie Young is a writer who’s moved to an isolated house in the woods to work on her second novel. She’s plugging right along when a crossbow-wielding lunatic shows up and traps her inside. It sounds formulaic and like nothing you haven’t already seen if you’ve been watching horror movies for the last twenty years, but there’s a fascinating twist, one that keeps the movie interesting despite the flimsy plot:
Maddie is deaf and mute.
Right away, I was fascinated. I’ve had a few blind friends but I’ve never had a deaf friend. Sure, it’s one thing to see a movie now and then that pays lip service to the world of the soundless, but I can’t remember seeing one that made it so tactile. I liked seeing how Maddie commanded her world; call me a tourist, but I am definitely visiting this world so I am learning what I can. Since I’m not deaf, I was more interested in seeing how Maddie defended herself physically, as the vast majority of survival movies portray women as enfeebled and useless. Also, she’s a writer! What’s not to love?
The film starts with Maddie (played by Siegel, who is also one of the writers) cooking dinner, and then chatting with her neighbor and friend, Sarah. Sarah is learning American Sign Language (ASL). While we, the audience, have the benefit of subtitles for Maddie’s side of the conversation, Sarah is missing some of the more complex concepts of Maddie’s responses. Maddie uses shorter words and spells words out to help, and you get the sense she’s used to this, if not inured to it. There’s a reason she spends so little time with other people, and a subsequent conversation with another friend reinforces this. Also, don’t get too into Sarah; she doesn’t last long. Sarah heads off, having left an invitation with Maddie to come watch movies with her and her boyfriend.
Once again alone, Maddie sets about getting back to work on writing. While she’s working and going about her night, Sarah is murdered, almost within sight of Maddie. And then we meet the killer, who lets himself into the unlocked door in order to get Maddie’s phone.
As he’s watching her, the killer realizes she’s deaf, and because he is terrible, is delighted. What a fun new way to mess with someone! he seems to be thinking, and in that moment you realize what killing people is for him – it’s not the murder, it’s the chase. He’s that kind of psycho killer. He wants to feel powerful, and accomplishes this by torturing and killing others.
He announces his presence by going back outside and messaging her through her laptop from her own phone. Once Maddie is aware of him, she, unaware of his intentions, promises not to call the police since she hasn’t seen his face. Amused, he immediately takes off his mask, disclosing a face I can only describe as ‘Nondescript White Male Youtube Commenter #145.’
The actor is actually quite handsome in real life and has a background in musical theater, which is why it’s so amazing to me he’s playing this guy. But hey, he’s got range !
Although the ground floor of Maddie’s house is about 75% windows, the killer promises he won’t come inside until she invites him in, and is so miserable that she’s begging him to die. This is his modus operandi: He hunts and terrorizes his victims (as indicated by the notches on the crossbow) until they are broken and begging to die. What a dick.
The set-up established, what follows is a grueling survival story. There’s some harrowing camera work, great dialogue, and some wildly tense moments of people hiding from each other, a bit of action, and a lot of the killer being creepy or hateful.
Overall I found Maddie a likeable protagonist, and her struggle was definitely compelling, but some of the framing devices didn’t seem as well thought out as they could have been.
For one thing, there were some massive plot holes. Since Maddie is deaf, she can’t hear how much noise she’s making. Hinges, steps, and wooden floors creak, but none of Maddie’s do – why not? What if he can hear her steps on the pine straw outside? Or her clothes rustling? The more quiet I try to be, the more noise I make: every cabinet hinge sounds like a crypt in a horror movie, every pot I drop sounds like steel drum practice. There are several moments when it’s clear the killer is reacting to a noise Maddie makes, but she seems to get away with a lot of movement, considering the circumstances. Maybe she was taking precautions to be quiet and I missed them, or she just knew her own house very well.
I would definitely recommend Hush if you’re looking for an intelligent (despite the few plot holes) thriller with some strong, likeable characters and performances. Naturally it’s pretty bloody and brutal, but no worse than a lot of other R-rated fare.
So that was Hush! Thanks for reading, and please tune back in Wednesday for our first entry in Werebeast Week: Dog Soldiers.
Further note: I found a deaf reviewer who wasn’t impressed with the film. Her observations are fascinating, and worth a read here at Limping Chicken. She raises points about how deaf people perceive the world, and also discusses the problem of having non-deaf talent play deaf people.
*Fun fact: This quote comes from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, which I haven’t read but should.
** Just kidding. I don’t belong to an HOA. Pretty sure HOAs were created to keep people like me out. I am fine with that.