Our reviewer didn’t care much for Hush, the direct-to-Netflix new horror film from the director of Oculus. But since Hush is a horror film with a deaf protagonist, we wondered: what would a deaf person make of it. Step forward, deaf horror fan Katie Sawyer…
As a deaf film fan, I prefer more visual horror films: Candyman, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Final Destination films and Scream are amongst my favourites. I only really got into horror films in my early twenties, and due to a lot of horror films having villains with face-obscuring masks, or deformities preventing lip reading, I waited until home video release where I was able to enjoy them at home with my friends (and a bowl of popcorn), thanks to a VCR that captioned the dialogue. As more films were released on DVD with subtitles, I was able to enjoy more classic horror movies that I had missed out on. Being deaf, your other senses are heightened and jump scares and other horror tropes can be effective, especially if you have missed the warning music cues! But there’s only so much you can be scared by and not getting the full effect of soundtracks like other horror fans love, sometimes they can be a little boring if you are waiting for something to happen.
Hush is about a writer, Maddie (Katie Siegel), who has retreated to the woods to work on her latest novel. A tentative friendship with her neighbour, Sarah, reveals that Maddie is deaf and mute, and how much she depends on technology to communicate. One night, she is stalked by a maniac who watches her through the doors before making his way into her home.
They say the most effective horror films are the ones that tap into your primal fears, and Hush works because we can see what Maddie cannot be aware of, as the masked killer enters her house and starts his cat and mouse game, toying with her through the windows. As a deaf viewer, however, I do feel Maddie would have spotted the stranger prowling her deck much earlier as most deaf people would have good peripheral vision and the vibrations from the thumps on doors would have caught her attention much earlier, even if Maddie was distracted by kitchen chores.
Hush controversially cast a hearing actress as Maddie, which had the Deaf community up in arms as there are so many talented Deaf people out there who don’t get the opportunity to represent onscreen. Casting a hearing person in the role of Maddie does feel patronising, as I do feel that the role could have equally been acted as well by a deaf actress who may have added more power to some scenes. I believe this was less of a talent issue than Siegel wanting to play the part herself (she wrote the film with the director, Mike Flanagan, who is also her husband), and Siegel does well in the part; you definitely feel for her as she goes through a terrifying ordeal. For me, she could have been a bit more facially expressive – and I find it hard to believe her medical history would have been her opening lines on her author biography – but it was a nice touch having the actresses sign with each other as Maddie teaches her neighbour, Sarah, some signs.
I had a few other issues, too. For example, in a FaceTime conversation with her sister, Maddie claims, “Isolation happened to me, I didn’t pick it!” Yet she chose to go to a cabin in the woods to write. Also, a scene where Maddie literally talks to herself to think through the different outcomes of what she can do, doesn’t gel with her earlier statement that the voice she hears is her mom’s – surely then her mother would be the person talking to her? I also felt it was a little patronising to have the actress in a split role, rather than just visualising the different scenarios, but to go from a character facing herself and speaking, to a voiceover would have been even more patronising for a deaf audience, so Maddie facing herself works for the film. Even if the talking is a slight cop out, it accurately portrays the inner voice people have.
As I was aware of Flanagan’s previous output with the unsettling Oculus, I was awaiting a few twists and turns and overall, Hush doesn’t disappoint. It’s a solid thriller and worth a watch. Available on Netflix now, it is definitely creepy if you watch it at home, with the lights off!
– Katie Sawyer (@pitythebackseat)