A review of “Hush” (2016)

I feel like I should have enjoyed “Hush” (2016) more than I did.  It isn’t a bad movie — it’s well made, and it stars Kate Siegel, who this year’s exceptional “The Haunting of Hill House” has led me to really like as an actress.  (Siegel also co-wrote the film with director Mike Flanagan, who is her husband and who was also the writer and director of “Hill House.”)  Siegel is again quite good, and their collaboration here results in a competent, serious horror-drama with no glaring flaws.

Yet my mind wandered.  Even if there was nothing seriously wrong with “Hush,” it didn’t much distinguish itself.  Just about everything you watch here is a standard stalker-vs.-lone-woman scary movie, with little in the way of twists or unexpected plot developments.

Yes, the difference here is that the protagonist is deaf and mute, and is therefore less able to defend herself — but Siegel and Flanagan don’t capitalize on that much in conceiving this story.  By the end of the film, I didn’t get the sense that the character’s disability even affected the course of the story very much.  Events would have unfolded more or less the same way if she hadn’t had this disability.  (Or am I missing something?)  I also get the sense that the protagonist being an author was supposed to affect her choices and strategies in trying to survive, but that didn’t come across consistently or well.  (And it results in “tricking” the viewer at one juncture in a way I didn’t like.)

I can’t actually recommend “Hush” to others because it didn’t thrill me.  But I can’t objectively say that it’s a bad movie.  So I figure I’ll rate it here a 7 out of 10.

A few random observations:

  • Siegel is a talented performer.  I predict she’s going to go on to great things.  Don’t let my lukewarm response to this film dissuade you from catching her elsewhere — especially in “The Haunting of Hill House.”
  • The story’s antagonist is fairly generic; he appears to be simply be a random serial killer in the script, and we get hardly a hint about his motivations.  But John Gallagher Jr. breathes plenty of life into him with a disturbingly authentic, naturalistic performance.  He’s also a very good actor.
  • I saw a plot twist coming that didn’t actually occur, and I wonder if what I saw was a vestige of an earlier version of this movie’s script.  (And it isn’t a spoiler if it didn’t happen.)  During a stalk-and-talk scene in which the bad guy taunts his victim, he inexplicably addresses Siegel’s character as “Squish.”  That sounds like a pet name that parent would give to a very young child.  The twist I predicted was this — Gallagher’s character was not a serial killer who selected his victims at random, but a long lost, homicidal brother who was then parodying the parent by invoking the pet name.  He was motivated by pathological jealousy after growing up with his disabled sister, who he felt monopolized his parents’ attention and sympathies.
  • We learn from dialogue that the protagonist became deaf and mute after contracting meningitis when she was a child.  I knew that meningitis could make a person deaf (or blind).  But … also mute?  Why am I skeptical about that?  Wouldn’t that only happen if someone became deaf when he or she was a baby — so that the disease could delay key early childhood language-acquisition processes?  I have no idea why I am so hung up on this minor bit of exposition.  Maybe watching so many zombie or plague movies has made me a stickler for the way diseases are portrayed in a horror story.

 

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A review of Season 1 of “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018)

Ghosts seldom scare me, because I’m never 100 percent clear on what sort of threat they present to the protagonists of a horror film or TV show.  They’re not like zombies, vampires, werewolves or serial killers, all of which will do predictably horrible things to their victims.

Can ghosts … kill you?  Injure you?  That usually doesn’t make sense, given their non-corporeal nature.  Can they … scare you to death?  How would that work?  Would they cause a heart attack?  Or drive you mad?  That’s fine, I suppose, but here they’ve taken a back seat to the demons of horror films since 1973’s “The Exorcist” spawned a sub-genre with far more frightening supernatural baddies.  Are ghosts supposed to inspire existential dread, by reminding the viewers of their own mortality?  For me, that backfires — their existence would strongly suggest the existence of an afterlife, which would be paradoxically reassuring.

It’s therefore a testament to the quality of Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018) that it’s frequently so scary, even to me.  We find out in the first episode that its ghosts indeed do more than frighten the story’s protagonists, but it’s the show’s writing, directing and acting that make it so memorable.  It’s an a superb viewing experience, and I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.

The cast roundly shines — but especially Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (even if his performance was a little understated).  Catherine Parker is deliciously evil in a supporting role as the house’s most outwardly vicious spirit.  The best performance, for me, however, was the young Victoria Pedretti as the traumatized Nell — she was goddam amazing, and deserves an Emmy nomination.

Mike Flanagan’s directing was perfect — his use of long angles and colors to make lavish interiors disorienting reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s similar sensory trickery in “The Shining” (1980).  Michael Fimognari’s cinematography was beautiful.  Even the makeup effects were damned good.  (Nothing beats Greg Nicotero’s work in “The Walking Dead” universe, but the work here is sometimes horrifying.)

I’m not the only one who loved this show either.  It is broadly praised in online horror fan circles (though I’d recommend avoiding most of those for spoilers).  I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel that is its source material, but a bibliophile who I trust assured me that the show is even better.

Sure, there were some things that didn’t work for me.  “The Haunting of Hill House” actually does take a while to get where it’s going; it favors in-depth, flashback-heavy character development over advancing its plot, in much the same manner as “Lost” (2004 – 2010) once did.  And some viewers might feel the same frustration here as they would for that show.

Its story and supernatural adversaries are also distinctly Gothic.  (Your mileage may vary as to what’s a comfortably familiar trope and what’s an archaic cliche.  I myself was more interested the more modern and three-dimensional interpretation of ghost characters seen in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”)  I’d even go so far as the say that the first ghost that we see in any detail is actually disappointing — the otherworldly figure connected with the bowler hat felt too cartoonish for me, like something we’d see on Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion” ride.  (Trust me, they get more intimidating after that.)

Give this show a chance — and stay with it if you think it’s too slow, or if you find its characters a little unlikable at first.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weird world: if the diffident, sometimes off-putting character of Steven looks familiar to you, it might be because that’s none other than Michiel Huisman, who plays the charismatic Daario on “Game of Thrones.”

 

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