Is it October yet? I’m not a fan of this time of year. At least in the South, August and September are just a last chance for summer to blast out any remaining heat before things get wonderful and spooky. But I digress.
I’ve been binging on a true crime podcast (My Favorite Murder), so I felt I needed to go home invasion for this entry. Then I remembered I had queued Hush [2016, directed by Mike Flanagan]. I’d heard buzz about this one. And it was… fine. Here we go!
Steven King much?
I’m a total sucker for a story about a writer holed off somewhere in the wilderness. Hush takes the isolation a step further and makes that writer deaf and mute. Oh God, we think, She can’t scream. She can’t call for help.
One of the most successful elements in this film are the voices in Maddie’s head. She hears her mother’s voice as her own when writing. Writers are inherently critical of their work, especially during the writing process. Her mother’s voice overlaps with thoughts about ending her book, saying things like, “No, not got enough… not talented… didn’t set it up enough…” How fascinating is that? Little details like that show us this character’s history without drowning us in exposition. We see how Maddie uses self-doubt to isolate herself. I loved these overlapping voices and endings. Even when she doubts herself, Maddie is fearless in her writing. We get the sense that she can handle herself.
Noise, noise, noise
This movie relies heavily on sound. I would even offer that it uses sound as a crutch to convey tone, feel, and tension. The killer doesn’t worry about how much noise he’s making, even when killing Maddie’s neighbor, Sarah, against Maddie’s kitchen door while she cleans up. He tromps through the leaves. We cringe when Maddie tries to dash away and her feet skid against the tin roof, or the forest debris. The killer speaks right behind her ear and she doesn’t know. It’s difficult for me to not see this as a horror device. I’m not seeing this as equal representation, having a protagonist who has a disability. Maddie’s disability is only in place to make the viewer uncomfortable and fearing for her at every second. It seems a bit cheap to me.
Always run upstairs when being chased
One of the things that super bugged me was how dumb these people are. Call me paranoid, but it seems like living away from society in the woods with only one neighbor is the perfect excuse to make your house a bunker. Especially if you have a disadvantage to your potential tormentor.
- Maddie and Sarah leave all of the doors and windows wide effing open while the smoke clears out of the kitchen. Then, after sundown, Maddie leaves even more doors open so the cat can come in. You know what else can come in through an open door? A cat burglar. Or a cat-killing murderer. Dumbies.
- John and Sarah actually named their WIFI “John and Sarah.” SERIOUSLY? Let’s broadcast to all the sociopaths circling the perimeter exactly how many people live in a house and what their names are. You are literally telling an intruder how many victims are in the house.
- John gets on his knees when the creep-o-saurus creeper killer comes running up to him saying he’s a cop but wearing a killer’s outfit, no gun or police badge, no police car, bleeding, with a huge gross Red Dragon-esque neck tattoo, and holding a sign that says, “I’m a lunatic out in the woods who is acting wicked sketchy and covered in your wife’s blood and would you like to hold her scalp?” Ok, I made that last one up. But you get the idea. I know John gets wise, but only after the killer drops his wife’s earring.
- Maddie disinfects her arrow wound. Good, right? Not so fast. She doesn’t bandage it. You’re telling me she has stuff to disinfect a wound but doesn’t have any bandages?
- Maddie is constantly backing herself up to windows, doors, giant holes in the walls. Does she need to put her back to a wall? Why? It’s not like some guy promised her he would break in and kill her, or anything.
You know what they say about glass houses
Why is there so much glass in this house?! Has the builder ever looked at crime statistics? Not only is the house like 70% made up of huge glass doors and windows, but they installed those flippy locks so a killer would just have to break the glass and then turn the knob. UGGH! Moving on.
This was meant to be a quiet, writerly night in for Maddie. She’s rocking the comfy jeans, ill-fitting shirt with bra hanging out, and a glass o’ wine. Also. I have to note that she’s wearing shoes and I think that was a mistake. Who wears shoes when they’re getting comfy on the couch?
I was impressed by the specific details of isolation being laid out for the viewer. The camera focuses on low batteries, and on the killer checking to make sure Maddie can’t access the “John and Sarah” WIFI channel. He cuts the power. He knows she is a deaf-mute. Hush is a tense experience. It savors how much the killer is screwing with Maddie. Hush is winking at the viewer in these moments, like when Maddie is typing “la la la la, I’ll die of old age before publishing a second novel,” and the killer is standing right behind her.
That said, there were many moments where the film kind of fell apart in the silences. There are lots of pauses in this thing, and circular moments. Does Maddie run back to the kitchen? Try to go out yet another window? Does she run back up to the attic? It gets a bit repetitive. I understand that Hush is trying to work within some limits here, which is dandy-fine to do in a film, but you can’t let your audience see that.
The nameless baddie
First, I want to note that the unnamed killer is called “The Man” in the credits. Any original Halloween fans in the house? The reason this cracker weasel doesn’t reach “The Shape”-level of terror for me is because he is unmasked early on. In fact, it’s one of his first little tortures of Maddie. She writes on the window “Didn’t see face / won’t tell.” The mask he was wearing was terrifying. Unmasked, he is revealed to be a slight, gross-looking mouth-breather who acts like that kid on the playground you always hated. When he takes his mask off and says “You’ve seen it now, haven’t you?” we are supposed to feel dread, but I just felt annoyance. Hold that moment, Hush! Let him be nameless a little longer. It called to mind The Strangers , which was an incredible home invasion movie with terrifying masked perps who remain anonymous and scary. It’s scarier when I don’t know why this guy is doing this and he almost seems a bit supernatural. Take that mask off and you’ve got your run-of-the-mill serial killer. We get a lot time with this guy, and I didn’t really enjoy that. He says to Maddie “Only when you want to die, that’s when I’ll come inside.” While mouth-breathing. I GET IT, he hates humanity.
Some strengths of this character: he is truly demented and sadistic. He uses Sarah’s body to knock on the window. Actually, he knocks on the house constantly, like he’s always asking if Maddie is ready for him to come inside. He toys with Maddie. He remains just off-screen while she FaceTimes, not worried about her sister seeing him. He recites pieces of her sister’s conversation back to Maddie, like he wants her to think of the last thing they said to each other. When he breaks Maddie’s arm and hand, he holds an arrow up to the window and snaps it. My favorite small detail about this guy was his crossbow. He has a ton of practice using this thing. There are scratches on it marking how many hunts he has done. There are 13, spaced apart in a few groups. It looks like he’s killed a few larger groups of people, and some one-offs. His knife is made from an antler. This method of killing is a source of pride for him.
In my notes for this entry, I wrote, “coward weasel prick” as my description of this guy. Accurate. I stand by that. He doesn’t go barrels-out into a fight with John. He knows he can’t take him. In his long, long, I mean stupid long conversation with John out on the porch, he calls John a “jock-type,” and says the robber who mowed past him was also a big jock-type. It’s clear that this guy wishes he was a different kind of man. He only toys with Maddie because he knows he has a clear advantage over her.
Our fearless (?) protagonist
I didn’t find Maddie to have too much personality. She is meant to cause the viewer to fear for her, and I don’t like when horror movies use females as devices. But! Then some things change.
Maddie sees herself as a victim for almost the entirety of the film. Only when she hears her own voice (instead of her mother’s) helping her work through the different possible endings to her life does she snap out of it. I was waiting for that switch to flip for so long that I was annoyed when it finally happened. She uses her own blood to write on the glass, calls him a coward and gives him a “come at me bro” look. Yay! She uses what she thinks are her last moments to type in her story a description of the guy, tell her family she loves them and that she died fighting. She makes a face like, “Oh well, guess this is it.”
When the killer drops behind her in the bathtub and she is losing consciousness, her eyes go wide in understanding (instead of fear) when he breathes against her. The slo-mo moment when she stabs him was pretty great. But then she doesn’t grab his knife and stab him in the neck! WTF?
So Maddie lives. I’m always happy when a female lives in horror. Her cat, Bitch, sits down next to her on the porch while the cops arrive. I appreciate that this film was trying to use the theme of “independent bitch” as Maddie’s identifier (she calls her cat “independent bitch” earlier in the film). It was heavy-handed, and still used in a negative way. I’m all for reclaiming that word as a feminist war cry. But it didn’t feel that way to me in this particular film. Maybe because we spend so much effing time with the weaselly women-hating killer instead of with Maddie. I think Hush has a lot of potential to be a strong feminist horror flick, but it’s not there.
Have y’all seen this one yet? Let me know if you disagree with my diagnosis. October’s coming. Hang in there, kiddos.