Friday, September 2, 2016

Hush (2016)

Let's talk about Mike Flanagan. He's one of horror's best new directors – probably THE best in my estimation, even if only for the film Absentia, which is still one of my favorites of any era of horror. He followed it up a few years later with Oculus, which was also good if not as good, perhaps a bit less layered and character-driven, but still one-upping most contemporaries at the supernatural horror genre. Now he's come out with the Netflix exclusive Hush, which, if nothing else, does show us here at Cinema Freaks that the best way to survive a home invasion is to be deaf.

There are also SPOILERS in this review, so tread with caution!

Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

Co-written with Michelle.

Up front: We both think this is a really cool movie. It's very inventive and has a lot of cool, subtle touches that raise it above the average thriller in this genre. I'm not even very big on the home invasion stuff – I think a lot of it is pretty trite trash. But this one is good.

So, then. Let's talk about why.

The film starts off pretty quaintly – a deaf woman, Maddie, is cooking dinner and still sort of conflicted over her old boyfriend, which is a plot never quite elaborated on and I'm glad the film didn't spend much time on it. She gets a visit from her friend, who talks to Maddie about her book, which the friend apparently loved. Maddie says she gets the ideas for her stories from a voice in her head, which, while interesting, could also have much in common with schizophrenia.

Not to imply that writers would ever be anything less than sane.

It does set up the main undertone of the story, though, which is Maddie's talent for seeing all sorts of different endings. She has seven for her book on her computer, as we see later – and she's frustrated because none of them are working out right. Her friend leaves after a mishap with the food she's cooking. Little did she know Maddie wanted everything to be burnt to a crisp – it's that special kind of cuisine.

Later on we get some more shading and backstory – apparently Maddie moved out to the country to be alone. Her sister and family think it would be better if she moved back into the city, but she doesn't want to. And this guy who she used to date, I guess, keeps calling her incessantly after she starts to call him and then stops. Stop creeping on her, asshole! And, while this is all going on, a guy has broken into her home and has killed her best friend outside!

I wonder if the killer doesn't know she's deaf. Maybe he's thinking "wow, this girl must really hate her best friend to not even LOOK over here when I am killing her." I wonder if that makes him mad, like a spoiled kid whose parents won't even pay him mind. I hope it does.

Oh, wait. That isn't backstory. It's actually just the regular, real and very tense plot.

I do like how the killer just pops up with no warning. Like a fucking Jack in the Box. That's badass. He comes like a force of nature and there's zero explanation for his appearance. He doesn't get some sort of secret connection, some soap-opera shit where you find out he's Maddie's long lost cousin who she once killed his pet hamster, or something like that. No, this guy is just some random psycho, stalking the house with a crossbow.

Maddie finally realizes something is wrong and tries to escape in vain. This starts the meat of the movie – the long, darkly-lit cat-and-mouse thrill sequence where Maddie tries to survive the torments of the man outside, who proves to be very sadistic. I mean, I know that's a hell of an accusation. But look at this – he uses her dead friend as this sick puppet and knocks her hand on the window. Over and over, he does this. I'm not one to judge by first appearances. But I think this guy is probably a fucking whack job.

Hey, we all have issues and we all deal with them in different ways.

Fortunately, Maddie is no slouch herself. She maneuvers all kinds of shit during this movie. She's able to stay alive with gusto, even. Like a female, deaf John McClain, which is really what I think John McClain was all the time inside. A deaf woman. That's what every action hero is inside – a kick ass deaf woman.

The film goes along quite swimmingly, with not a whole lot to pick apart or criticize – it's just a very solid, tense home invasion flick, and the scenes are well constructed and engaging. The film is good because it doesn't insult your intelligence. There are no dumb scenes of Maddie trying to talk and reason with the killer – well, for obvious reasons, actually. And there's no implausible torture-traps or twists of fate where it makes the killer look to have superpowers, a la The Collector. It just gives you good, lean, mean suspense and thrills. Which really should not be some sort of revolutionary thing – but there you go; that's the state of this genre.

One scene I liked that also bucked cliché was when that dead girl's boyfriend shows up later on and distracts the killer. The killer does pretend he's a cop, which is a bit silly. But it never goes the way I expected it to – they do NOT have the killer immediately overpower the guy, tricking him like he's some sort of omnipotent force. The guy almost gets the drop on the killer, actually. The only reason he doesn't is because Maddie distracts him from far away, not being able to tell that he had the upper hand. That's a really cruel fucking twist of fate, and works macabrely in the movie's favor. The killer does kill the guy and it's much closer than it is in other films.

Another great scene: Maddie makes a break for it running outside. The killer catches her immediately with a rock to the head, then straddles her and smashes her head in with another rock.

Cut to her back in the house, having imagined the whole thing. It's her “writer brain” from earlier kicking in – she's a better strategist than most main characters, it appears, being able to judge bad ideas before actually trying to do them.

Instead, what ends up happening is a more closed-in fight scene inside the house, in which she blinds him with bug spray to the eyes and then deafens him with her super loud fire alarm device. Then she ends up stabbing him with a wine opener that appeared earlier in the movie. The old Chekhov's Wine Opener plot device. I know it well...

This is just a solid as fuck horror film. I think this is well done for its tense atmosphere, its clearly defined and exciting series of events and the main character, Maddie, who is very capable, badass and interesting to watch, not to mention actually likable and sympathetic – not always a given with horror movies.

But there are also a few other subtle things I really like about this. For one, the use of sound – the movie's name, Hush, isn't an accident. The film does well to point out and play around with Maddie's deafness as a sort of aesthetic device. The moments in the film where she's alone and then a sound appears to the viewer, piercing the silence in that way that we know she can't hear, are interesting and different, and they're very small, mostly cropping up in the beginning before all the action starts – but it's little, subtle touches like this, very well woven into the film, that establish her character, set the tone for the film and add a detail that the film would've been a bit worse without.

And I like that she's deaf – that she can survive while being a deaf woman trapped in this situation. Those little moments I mentioned? Those are kind of like the butterfly flapping its wings before a storm happens – Butterfly Effect type shit. She figures out new, inventive ways to escape the killer and holds her own, and thus, her deafness is actually what sets this whole movie apart from its parent 'home invasion' genre. It's very fresh in that way.

I also enjoyed the minor theme running through of Maddie's writing career. The 'writer brain' concept is very cool, and developed subtly but well over the film's course. She starts out the film unable to finish her book, leaving a computer full of half-finished notes and a lot of frustration as her attacker then traps her in the house, cuts off the power and kills everyone she knows. But she's able to survive the ordeal, at least in part, because she's adapted so well to being deaf. Kind of a “other senses amplified” sort of deal. But she actually survives because of what she can do that others can't – her disability forces her to be more crafty than someone who could hear might be, but it's her writing talent and creative mind that helps her actually come out on top.

That's pretty fucking cool. Go see Hush. It's on Netflix so you have no excuse if you've got that. Otherwise, I guess you have plenty of excuses.

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