Hello, everyone! I’ve been trawling Netflix recently, looking, as usual, for a good horror movie, and I’ve finally found one. It’s called Hush, a film by Mike Flanagan, who also directed the horror movies Oculus (which I liked) and Absentia (which I didn’t). I’ve watched Hush twice so far, and I find it to be a refreshing take on the home invasion thriller. Here’s the trailer:
Plot Synopsis: Maddie, a woman rendered deaf in her teens by a disease, lives in relative isolation while she writes her second novel. One night, after conversing with a neighbor, she is ambushed by a masked man who arrives on her doorstep. His motives for choosing her house are unknown. He taunts her with the knowledge that he can enter her locked house anytime and is waiting for the perfect moment. The two enter into a game of cat-and-mouse. Maddie’s disability is her main issue, but she’s not your standard damsel in distress. As the movie progresses, Maddie decides to take survival into her own hands, and the masked man’s “game” of home invasion becomes a battle on both sides.
My take: I’ve seen quite a few home invasion movies in muh day, but from the very beginning, Hush was different. It featured many of the same tropes: beautiful woman alone in the woods, masked man as the attacker, no cell-phone service, masked man has no genuine motive for being there besides evil, but then the film slowly began to dismantle each trope. For example, in the first scene, we discover that Maddie is deaf. This doesn’t have any effect on her status as a beautiful woman, of course, but it does immediately give her a different life perspective than most women featured in home invasion movies. One such character who comes to mind is Jennifer from I Spit on Your Grave. She’s basically the same character (both are young woman, both are writers, both live in an isolated cabin), but while Jennifer is shown as a somewhat vapid party girl, Maddie’s deafness is used as a way to showcase her resilience, her independence, and her capabilities. Disabilities in movies are often used to show why a character is less capable than their colleagues, so I like that Flanagan wrote Maddie as a deaf character to portray her as more capable than her colleagues.
Another trope that Flanagan dismantles is that of the mysterious masked man. We’ve got several home invasion movies whose fear factor is based solely on how freaky masked people are. Let’s see, we’ve got The Purge, You’re Next, The Strangers, Cabin in the Woods, etc. The masked man, who I’m going to call Charlie from now on, because that’s what his name should be, starts out as one of those anonymous evil-doers. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know exactly why humans are so immediately distrustful of strangers in masks, but I’d bet that it has something to do with not being able to see their facial expressions, and thus not being able to predict their actions. The scenes when we see Charlie wearing his mask are frightening because he seems to be an emotionless, violent super-human who has no qualms about harming an isolated woman. But Flanagan realizes that while the mask is scary, it’s what we fear the man under the mask will do that really causes tension. So he scraps the mask idea, in the first twenty minutes I’d say, and allows the viewer to see the real villain, who, surprise surprise, is a human like any one of us.
What’s amazing about that scene is that contrary to what the viewers might expect, Charlie takes off his mask, not to put Maddie at ease, but to frighten her even more. When Maddie first sees him standing outside her door, she scribbles on the glass with lipstick that “she hasn’t seen his face,” thus assuming that he’s only stalking her so that she won’t call the police. But Charlie doesn’t care if she hasn’t seen his face because his intentions aren’t innocent: he wants to kill her and he’s not trying to hide it. When he takes off his mask and then mouths “now you’ve seen it”, knowing full well that she can read lips, it affirms the viewer’s unconscious fear. Yes, men in masks are scary, but so are the men without.
In only the first twenty minutes, Flanagan turns the tables on home invasion tropes. We have an isolated woman, but she’s deaf and capable as hell, and we have a masked man, but he took off his mask and he’s just a regular guy. A schlubby looking, guy who looks like he works at Best Buy, for good measure. However, just because Maddie isn’t a damsel in distress and Charlie isn’t wearing a mask does not mean that the situation becomes equal. Charlie has a weapon, Maddie is alone, and he can come into her house any time he wants. However, the battle for survival that ensues is unique to a horror-genre home invasion movie because it sets up the premise that Maddie has a chance at living. That might not seem like a “unique” premise, but I’ve seen many horror/slasher home invasion movies where from the very beginning, the protagonist is hopelessly outmatched by their assailant. These are the superhuman assailants who take bullets and knife wounds and being hit by tables and doors and chairs but still manage to murder every main character in the house without so much as a wince. That’s not the case in Hush. Charlie may have a crossbow, but he’s not an invincible monster. Maddie manages to outsmart him and injure him several times, but in the interest of realism, she gets outsmarted and injured too. The main body of the film, in which much of the cat-and-mouse game plays out, seems to me what a real home invasion scenario of this type would be like. In real life, both attacker and victim would be humans, with various skills and weaknesses to aid or hinder them. It would be a rare case for a single victim to be harassed and attacked by people who are incapable of fault or injury.
Flanagan’s film was both suspenseful and clever. I particularly like the scene where Charlie is first introduced. The sight of him knocking on the glass door of Maddie’s house, after just having loudly killed her friend, while she types obliviously on her computer, is both and understated and frightening. I also like the fact that she only realizes he’s there after he sends pictures of her, taken from inside the house, to her computer, and that he uses her phone to do it. Other movies have tried this same “he’s calling from inside the house” shenanigans before and I haven’t believed them because most people would hear a goddamn stranger coming into their house, but in this case, taking Maddie’s disability into account, it actually makes sense. Bravo, Mike Flanagan, for making that stupid trope actually work.
My favorite scene involved Maddie using her writer’s creativity to survive. Maddie never talks, but in two scenes, we hear a voice in her head narrating. As we find out when Maddie is signing a conversation with her neighbor (who is also learning sign language), the voice in Maddie’s head is not her’s, but her mother’s, and she helps Maddie in her time of need, sort of like a guardian angel. The first scene where we hear the mother’s voice is when Maddie is trying to figure out an ending for her book. She shuffles through several possibilities, but dismisses all of them. It is clear that finding an ending for her story is the most difficult part of the process. Then in the later scene, this problem is applied to her real life. While bleeding out on the floor from an injury, knowing that Charlie could enter at any moment, Maddie’s mother returns to help her plot out the possible endings for her “story.” These endings are all shown visually and all of them end in her eventual death. The first one freaked the hell out of me because I thought she had actually died so abruptly, but thank the lawd it was only her imagination. I liked the recurring theme because I thought that Flanagan had made Maddie a writer as a generic “female” occupation, to show that she’s creative or whatever, but it was actually to give us insight into her decision making and it was a meta way of saying that Maddie’s life was essentially just a story and that it was in her hands to give herself the best possible ending. I thought that was pretty sophisticated for a genre in which the protagonist’s main reasoning is usually something along the lines of “if I make this decision right now maybe it will work” instead of actually thinking shit through.
Hush demonstrated self-awareness throughout the entire film. The protagonist was aware of her limitations, as was Charlie the villain, which we see in a darkly comic fight between he and Maddie’s neighbor’s boyfriend, who comes looking for his murdered wife. Perhaps the best sign of the movie’s self-awareness was that, for once, the protagonist’s pet didn’t die. HALLELUJAH! I’m so tired of pets dying in horror movies. That hurts so much more than the people. Flanagan did a great fake-out with that scene, and from that alone, I can tell that he’s a director I want to watch in the future. After Hush and Oculus, Flanagan has proven himself as a horror director trying to improve the genre, while upsetting it a little in the process.
After looking up the guy who plays Charlie on Google, I just realized that he played the original Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening. And now I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m imagining him singing all of his lines. I love this movie even more. Watch Hush first, but then watch this, because he’s an amazing singer. And also watch all of Spring Awakening.