Friday, May 20, 2016

HUSH (2016) [Paul's Review]

In Hush, a resourceful deaf woman must fight off a predatory home invader.  At first, you might think it a variation on Wait Until Dark, the brilliant blind-woman-fights-off-predators Audrey Hepburn film.  However, Hush is less like Wait Until Dark and more like one of those low-budget TV commercials for home security systems.  The ones where cartoonish bandits come creeping through the petunias of your well-groomed suburban lawn while ominous music signals that BAD GUYS ARE EVERYWHERE AND LOOK HOW EASY IT IS FOR THEM TO JUST COME IN YOUR HOUSE AND KILL YOU. 

Look, I get it, people liked Hush.  I mean, according to my Netflix star rating it’s the fourth-highest rated horror movie on Netflix!  That’s better than Hellraiser, The Babadook, Cujo, and The Faculty.  Holy shit, The Faculty is on Netflix?  Wow, do you guys know who starred in that movie?  Jon Stewart plays an evil science teacher named Edward Furlong.   And Selma Hayek?  Elijah Wood?  Josh Hartnett?  Piper Laurie?  Usher!? It’s the Ocean’s Eleven of 90s horror!

Wait, what was I saying?  Oh yeah, Hush isn’t terrible, it's actually fairly coherent, but I just have to part ways with the collective on this one.   For all the originality of the premise—what would happen if the Final Girl were deaf?—the payoff is just another home invasion story.  The scariest thing really is my inability to get into it—if I can’t even enjoy the best of the lot, then maybe this whole reviewing project is just me shaking my fist at the sky or yelling at the grass to get off my lawn.
The sky in this particular fist-shaking exercise is the stumble that happens about fifteen minutes into Hush.  By this point, we’ve been introduced to the deaf heroine (Kate Siegel) who lives alone in a house in the woods and the silent masked man with a crossbow who is stalking her.  Things are developing nicely, and the expressionless mask is plenty creepy . . . until the killer takes it off.  And with that the movie veers from being a battle against a faceless inexplicable evil to being a battle against a diminutive wise-cracking dude who looks like your friend who thinks being a dj is a legitimate career.  Even worse, the guy patiently explains that he’s not just going to come in the house and kill her, but rather that he’s going to toy with her until she’s sufficiently scared and then he’ll kill her.
Ok, so he’s a sadistic psycho, got it.  But I feel like it would have been a lot scarier if he’d stayed behind his mask and let us figure that out on our own.  And there’s something, I don’t know, contrived about his desire to draw out his crime as long as possible.  For instance, he creeps into the house and steals her cell phone in the opening minutes.  But then he goes back outside and stomps around a lot.  Stomping around outside is like his whole scary plan.  And as he himself points out, he could come in the house and kill her at any moment, but he prefers to stomp around outside as if he couldn’t.  Stomp stomp stomp.  It’s as terrifying as when the gas guy comes to read your meter, which, if you’re my more skittish cat, is FUCKING TERRIFYING.

But if you’re not an indoor housecat, it loses its suspense precisely because the killer has already told us that the suspense is all faked.  He’s going to pretend to try to kill her until the very end.  To the movie’s credit, both heroine and villain are decently intelligent and their various stratagems are clever enough.  Yet the whole thing drags through the middle, as the heroine tries to escape by hiding under the porch and then by walking across the roof.  There’s a moment of excitement when she gets shot in the butt with an arrow, but this is immediately followed by what seems like a several-hour-long bandaging scene and an interminable sequence of her trying to figure out the crossbow she has successfully nabbed from the bad guy.

Oh man, that scene.  So she gets the crossbow and struggles to arm it.  The psycho killer, looking on, mutters “Not so easy, is it?” which is sort of petulant.  It’s like he’s butthurt because she just doesn’t get how hard it is to by a psycho killer.  “Not so easy,” hmph.  You know what is easy?  Breaking a window and just getting in the house and getting on with it.  Honestly it was frustrating how many times the killer is foiled when the heroine closes and locks a glass door.
Unsurprisingly, Hush picks up near the end when the killer actually starts trying.  A nicely executed fake-out scene breaks up the humdrum of running and stomping.  And the turn-the-disability-into-an-advantage tactic that horror movie fans will have been expecting since the opening minutes finally occurs, which is satisfying if not surprising.  Ok, so maybe the last third of Hush wasn’t that bad. 

But ugh, the middle fifty minutes are rough.  The characters are flat and depthless, even for a horror movie.  The killer simply wants to kill her, because that’s what he does.  But he doesn’t want to do it right away, because feature-length films are an hour and a half.  The heroine is deaf and she’s a writer, but for most of the movie she’s simply a girl who doesn’t want to die.  She’s supposed to be a tough woman who isn’t defined by her hearing impairment, yet the irony is that her hearing impairment is really the only thing distinguishing her character from any well-adjusted cardboard heroine of a Lifetime made-for-tv movie. 
There are some interesting uses of amplified sounds throughout the film, which work to remind us how much noise is around us all the time.  And it was kind of neat to see how new technology is used by the hearing impaired.  Facetime finally seems useful!  And did you know that you can set your phone to fire a strobe light on an incoming call?  I didn’t!  And did you know that you can look up recipes on your laptop?  Well, I guess I did know that, but it’s still pretty cool to remind ourselves that we’re living in a brave new world. 
Speaking of cooking, there is the fairly epic cooking scene in which she tries to make this recipe:

There are some warning signs here.  Why is "Lamb" capitalized?  Do you really want to leave both your stove and your oven on for 20 minutes while your "Lamb" soaks?  And how do you deglaze a pan that is making a bechamel?  There's no fond to deglaze!  That's a weird white wine/lactose bomb right there.  I'm also a little worried about the "pino grigio wine" since in a later scene, we discover that even though the lamb is cooking and the skillet is being "deglazed," the wine remains unopened:

Corked "Pino"
I know, I know, I'm reading too much into it.  But hear me out.  There's something going on here.  Because predictably, the recipe goes awry . . .

. . . and we forget all about it until the final scene in which her life depends upon her being able to reach a CORKSCREW!

What does it all mean!?  Is her entire battle a metaphor for her cooking?  Had she used the corkscrew to open her "pino grigio" she might have saved her dinner, thus ensuring that she had a houseguest and evading the whole psycho killer in the first place.  Maybe the killer was really just a psychological projection of her own repressed and subconscious knowledge that she FORGOT TO ADD THE WINE.  

The more I think about this, the more it actually starts to make sense.  This isn't a nightmare about being imperiled and deaf.  It's a nightmare about trying to make a fancy dinner that gets ruined.  And this leads to all sorts of other questions: like why is she making such a fancy dinner for her married neighbor friend?  What's with the weird lesbian overtones?  Maybe there is more to this story than I gave it credit for!  I'm starting to come around!  Hush for President!

Questions for Joe:
1.  The heroine has a cat named “Bitch.”  Do you think she named the cat or did she adopt it from a drag queen?

JD: I think she named it. It was probably cute when Bitch was a kitten, and grew into something weird and oppressive as Bitch became a cat. Which is really just a metaphor for cats.

2.  Early on, the heroine complains that her cat escaped and that she has to look for her.  And then she proceeds to look for the cat inside the house.  Where has the cat escaped from?   Does she usually keep the cat locked up in a box or something?

JD: I don't know. But you can imagine how much better cats would be if you were deaf? Yeah, there'd still be the litter and the barf, but at least you'd never has to hear the sucker complain loudly for food at 4:00 am. Then again, it'd probably just bite your face while you were sleeping. And we wonder why she calls her Bitch.

3.   The heroine primarily communicates with the killer by writing backwards on the glass so he can read it from outside.  Writing backwards is kind of difficult.  Do you think she went too far in trying to make it easy for him to read?

JD: After the killer takes his mask off, their interactions become kind of contrived and personal, like the interactions between the bride and groom in one of those "viral" wedding videos that's actually produced by a million dollar PR firm. Maybe this is really supposed to be the worst blind date ever. Did I say blind? I meant deaf! And by deaf...I meant dead.

4.  What’s your theory on why the killer was out a-killing?

JD: He's a mute deer hunter! She's a deaf novelist! When they get together, the most zany misunderstandings are bound to follow. And yeah, we know he's not really mute. But should we? *Spoken without making a sound* Should we?

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