In the first days of February, I find myself still trying to catch up on all the movies released in 2016 that I needed to see, but never got around to. Here’s my take on one drop in the well that I really enjoyed. Spoiler alert: there’s spoilers.
Starring and co-written by Kate Siegel, a woman of great talent (made clear by the very movie we’re talking about) Hush is a must-see feminist thriller. The film focuses on the story of a young woman, Maddie, who is deaf, mute, and a successful murder mystery novelist. She is also a badass single lady who gives no fucks and is living on her own in the middle of nowhere— #selfgoals. Unfortunately, though, being from a marginalized, vulnerable population, she becomes the target of a psychopathic serial killer. She has to either out strength or outsmart him to stay alive.
In a vast sea of thriller and horror movies that tell the generic story of a psycho-killer trying to murder some damsel in distress, Hush really stands out in its portrayal of a realistic, developed, strong female lead and her fight to stay alive against the wills of a violent, male oppressor. While the violence on-screen is dramatic, cinematic, and statistically less likely to happen, its symbolism explores something tangible for all femme folk: our rights, our autonomy, and our lives can violated—if not taken entirely—by men seeking to protect and satisfy their position of power.
The nameless villain (John Gallagher Jr.) becomes aware of Maddie’s hearing impairment as he successfully murders her friend/neighbor on her front porch. Maddie, cleaning her kitchen, is unable to hear anything happening on the other side of the sliding-glass door. She can’t hear her friend’s cries for help. She can’t hear the knife penetrating her friend’s flesh, as the killer excessively stabs her, desperate for validation of his strength and masculinity. She can’t hear the tapping-turned-banging of the killer’s hands against the glass, begging for her attention. Apparently she doesn’t have peripheral vision either? Regardless, once he learns of her vulnerability (and, thus, his advantage) he begins his inequitable game of chess with her—where the loser (presumably her) loses their life.
What’s most significant about how the story unfolds is that the killer doesn’t immediately just take the first chance he gets to murder her. Granted, this is a thriller, so of course they have to drag out the plot before the climax hits, but the majority of the violence the audience sees is psychological. He doesn’t slowly physically torture her body, but rather, he forces her to undergo long durations of stress, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. While women are often murdered by men, they are more commonly abused, assaulted, and killed by people they know, and the violence almost always begins with emotional/psychological violence (using power, control, and fear). These tactics typically escalate to non-sexual and/or sexual assault, with murder being the final act of violence. Women are disproportionately harassed, threatened, physically abused, sexually assaulted, and murdered by men—and when we’re not, we live in fear, anticipating the day when it finally does happen to us.
Thankfully, Hush provides the cathartic release that I needed in order to make this movie worth watching. In the climactic scene where the killer thinks he has finally won, as he strangles the breath and life out of Maddie, our heroine digs deep, finds strength, and grabs a nearby corkscrew, which she uses to satisfyingly stab him through the jugular. I consider myself a person who ultimately believes that violence is not the answer, but I couldn’t help feeling vindicated seeing him sit on top of her—both of them gasping for air—as blood gushed in slow, steady bursts from both sides of his throat. He dies. She lives. Fuck that asshole for even trying.
My only real complaint about Hush is the lack of racial diversity in the cast. The only non-white character is Maddie’s ex-boyfriend who’s only seen in the contact photo from his rejected calls on her cell phone. But, like, if there’s no Black man hired to play him, does it really count?
Regardless, the film is a thrilling, infuriating, empowering experience as we watch a disabled woman defeat the odds and survive her attempted murder. However, it’s important to note that an act of violence does not have to reach completion in order for it to negatively impact a person’s life. Attempted murder, attempted rape, attempted assault…they are still traumatizing. Violent acts exist on a spectrum, and no matter where on that spectrum the act exists, it is not victimless. It would be interesting to watch Hush 2: the story of how Maddie survives living with PTSD.