MAY 11, 2016
No, it makes no sense that Hush has been available for weeks and I'm just getting to it now. I mean, I HAVE an excuse - I was told it should be watched in the dark with the sound cranked, a situation that no longer presents itself since dark means my kid is asleep and thus there will be no cranking of sounds (especially with his bedroom directly above the TV room). But I feel I shoulda figured something out (a hotel?) just because it was a new film from a filmmaker I really like (writer/director Mike Flanagan of Absentia fame), that had drawn comparisons to Halloween, and was a merciful 75 minutes long without credits - I fear I am just getting out of habit. I think I mentioned this before, but the lack of discipline of "having" to watch/write every day has made it that much easier to let things pass me by, which sucks when it means I could be late to the party - or missing entirely* - quality films like this.
Now, with all due respect to Stephen King (who MAY have been a bit swayed by the appearance of a couple of his books on the heroine's shelf), I don't think it's up to Halloween standards - but let's not forget I don't think any film is, being that it's my favorite one ever. However, it definitely shares a very important trait with that film: it's basically plotless, devoting its runtime to little more than wanting to spook its audience and jolt them out of their seats when necessary. It's also a bit like The Strangers (another one I quite like), but even more stripped down - it's just the one woman (Maddie, played by co-writer Kate Siegel) and the one killer, who makes his presence known to her at like the 15 minute mark or so (Liv Tyler didn't know about that guy in her house for about double that, if memory serves). If anything Flanagan could have dragged out the "toying with her" part of the movie a bit, as that sort of stuff is always good for a scare - prowling in the background as she remains completely unaware, but I have to admire that he kind of made things harder for himself by letting her know about the killer so soon (and setting it more or less in real time after).
It's even more impressive/ballsy when you consider he had the license to let her go an entire movie without knowing that a guy was in her house, because she is deaf - he doesn't even have to worry about footsteps or anything alerting her as he makes his way around behind her. Her impairment forms the basis for one of the movie's most chilling moments, which starts out as a seeming direct homage to Halloween, with the heroine making her way back and forth in a kitchen that has a big glass door behind her. Just as Annie never noticed Michael appear (and disappear) as she talked to Paul, we astute horror fans keep expecting the killer (who hasn't made an appearance yet, but I and you probably know what the movie is about) to pull a similar move - but instead it's her neighbor who shows up, frantic and screaming (and eventually - spoiler - being murdered) as Maddie remains completely oblivious. It's the film's first real scare scene and also remains its best; a perfect blend of genuine terror and maximum utilization of one of the character's defining traits.
I should mention that the killer learns in this moment about her predicament, letting us know that it's not someone with a particular vendetta against her - the fact that she can't hear him was a surprise bonus, it seems. Flanagan just posted a few days ago a response to the people who have complained that the killer's motives and origins are left unknown (he doesn't even have a name), name-checking The Strangers' "Because you were home" as a more chilling "explanation" than anything he could cook up (he also amusingly reminds people that Silence of the Lambs didn't tell us much about Lecter, and that when they did in Hannibal Rising - everyone hated it). And he's 100% right; the movie gives us a few glimpses into his personality in order to make him a real character (as opposed to say, the nameless "Killer" in
Final Exam), but where he came from, why he does this, etc. are all left unknown, and that's how it should be for this kind of film. Scream can't end without Ghostface taking off his mask and giving Sidney/us a reason for his behavior, but this is a terror exercise, and thus is exempt from that requirement.
Plus, you know, it worked just fine for Michael Myers. While I like my Halloween sequels just fine, I will be first to admit that they tainted the original's power forever, as it's nearly impossible to forget what the sequels told us about Myers and why he's doing these things. And I think people forget that when they make these complaints - since it all blends together (the TV version of Halloween makes it even worse, hinting at the sister thing in the newly shot scenes) they forget that there was a time (1978 until October of 1981) where we had no idea why Laurie Strode was being targeted by this guy, and it didn't stop people from loving it. There are other examples, of course, but it's best/easiest to use Halloween when it's hard to argue with - is there anyone out there who really thought it needed more explanation and thank the sequels for providing it? I mean, maybe, but they're probably also voting for Trump. As Flanagan says in his piece, the moment you start explaining things is the moment they get silly, and I laud him for sticking to his guns and avoiding such nonsense. Knowing this guy's name wouldn't have made that aforementioned scene or any of the other solid scare scenes any more effective. It's just not the point of this particular film.
Back to the actual movie, another thing Flanagan does that I liked a lot was that he kept the cops out of it entirely. Again, she can't exactly call them for help anyway (he cuts the power, making internet pleas impossible), but if he wanted that usual kind of scene I'm sure he would have figured out a way to include one. But such scenes always play out the same way - the cop shows up, can't find anything, and gets killed just before he leaves (or he DOES find something and is killed before he can do anything about it). Instead, he just gives us the neighbors - the aforementioned victim and her boyfriend, who comes looking for her and encounters the killer - who poses as a cop! It's such a great inversion of a home invasion movie trope (getting rid of the cops who show up), and it plays into the film's other strength, which is that you're not sure how it will end up. Maddie is a novelist, and during the film's brief "let's get to know this person" sequence at the top we learn that she has multiple endings for her stories and never knows which she'll go with. That, along with Flanagan's not exactly super happy endings in his other films (and this being a movie Blumhouse didn't think could be a hit, i.e. potentially dark) had me never quite sure if anyone would survive, which aided the proceedings greatly.
See, with such a stripped down premise and cast (there are only five people seen in the film, one just briefly over a Skype call), you'd think the movie might be kind of boring, but he manages to make it work for the most part. Again, he might have let the killer fuck around for a bit longer instead of going out of his way to make her see him so soon, and there's one too many "she tries to go outside, fails, and runs back inside just in time to lock the door before he gets her" bits, but you know what this movie is with the heroine not knowing anything is wrong until the end? The goddamn When A Stranger Calls remake. I'll take a bit of repetition over "realistic" tedium any day of the week (and since she's deaf, the icemaker can't scare our heroine anyway!). If I had one legit complaint about the movie, it's that Flanagan doesn't explain that the glass on the doors is (inexplicably) just shy of shatter proof, as the killer has considerable trouble busting through it when he finally decides to do that - near the film's conclusion. Until then, even though he says he's in no rush to kill her, he clearly wants to get inside, but is seemingly incapable of just grabbing a rock or branch and smashing any of the doors or windows to do that. When he finally does we see that it's not that easy, but after 50 minutes or whatever it's been, it's a bit late to answer a simple question most audience members will probably have. There should have been a bit early on where he tries that and finds it to be too much trouble (especially with her being deaf - it's not like he'd have to worry about alerting her if he used a window she wasn't currently looking at).
The other "flaw" (note the quotes) is that it's not a movie you'll want to return to again and again; this is a one-timer if there ever was one. Maybe in 20 years I'd like to look at it again, or perhaps go to a revival screening to watch it with a crowd, but it serves its lean and effective purpose with just the one view. I say this to make sure I am clear that this is not a horror masterpiece that we need to induct in the hall of fame along with The Exorcist or whatever. It's what I like to call "blue collar" horror - it gets the job done, striving for no more and achieving no less. People will see these raves and touts from Stephen King and get their expectations inflated to an unreasonable degree, and that's a disservice to the film. I can almost see why Blumhouse opted to send it DTV; it's not worse than any of this year's releases (it's better than most, in fact) but it's so stripped down (and short) that I think people would be angry to pay the same ticket price they paid for the latest Marvel flick. No, it's perfect for Netflix or (eventual) VOD viewing, as it keeps your investment tiny and this allows for maximum rewards.
What say you?
P.S. As for why I finally watched it today - it was super cloudy and not a landscaper day for my apartment complex, so with almost no light coming through the cracks in the blinds and everything besides my surround sound being relatively quiet, I was able to get my living room as close to that ideal setup as I'll ever get.
*I was at the used DVD store the other day and was legitimately sad about all the stuff I hadn't seen. Sure, it was probably mostly crap, but I literally wrote a book on the movies I wouldn't have seen if I wasn't doing this, and thus it's possible some of them could have been included had I seen them. It really bummed me out.