Hush Movie Review 0 105

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I’ve been mightily impressed with writer-director Mike Flanagan’s horror output thus far. He made the sadly underseen gem Absentia a few years back, which tinged creeping horror with tragic sadness, while he flung us into a world of unsettling mirror-based horror with 2014’s hugely impressive Oculus.

His hot streak continues as a genre filmmaker with this devilishly effective little home invasion horror thriller, which takes a formula we know all too well – in everything from Straw Dogs to The Strangers – and puts a neat spin on it.

The film centres on Maddie (Kate Siegel), a young deaf woman who has purposefully retreated to a life of solitude in her house in the woods in an attempt to get away from the busy city and to concentrate on finishing her latest novel. Unfortunately for her someone is well aware of her being there with no one else around. One night she suddenly finds herself at the mercy of a psychotic masked killer who makes a sadistic game out of attacking her.

It’s a film that wastes no time at all; coming in at a mere 81 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat on it as Flanagan uses every weapon in his arsenal – the killer disappearing and reappearing at scarily random moments, use of framing and things emerging from shadows, makeshift weapons used on both sides of the victim-killer fence – to make sure you’re thoroughly on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and clawing at the arm rests in anticipation and fear of what’s coming next.

Somewhat gimmicky though the central premise of the main character being deaf may be, it’s nevertheless both an effective way to draw even more tension out of this kind of situation than usual and a potent twist on the representation of horror victims and attempt at survival we’ve come to know.

Although it doesn’t go so far as to have everything be completely silent whenever we see things from her perspective, we are nonetheless given the sense of what it must be like for this poor woman who has only her sight to help keep her from almost certain death. For example, of its brisk runtime, at least an hour of it is dialogue-free. Sound a bit dull? It’s anything but.

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Kate Siegel as Maddie in ‘Hush’

The film brilliantly plays around with our perception of the victim that her lack of hearing may automatically suggest her to be. Siegel – who also co-wrote the screenplay with Flanagan – does a great job of portraying both the vulnerability and the strength of a woman caught up in a terrifying situation. And the fact that she’s not actually deaf in real life makes her performance all the more impressive.

The nameless attacker is played by John Gallagher Jr. – don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler as he de-masks himself pretty much straight away – and his performance couldn’t be anymore different from how we’ve seen him in the likes of TV’s The Newsroom, Short Term 12 and the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. He’s utterly menacing and believably psychotic throughout, making sure we never know what he’s going to do and if he just might have one more trick up his sleeve even when Maddie seems to get one over on him.

The film went straight to Netflix but don’t let the stigma that often comes with non-theatrically released movies put you off as, like Blumhouse’s other recent Netflix-aimed horror Creep, this is more than just the lacklustre horror fare that often appears under the “If you liked this, you might like…” label when using the streaming service.

Flanagan has created an unnerving, taut, genuinely nail-biting home invasion horror that pierces a knife through the skin and the straight to the heart of what made the “someone’s trying to get in the house” tropes so scary in the first place. It’s a film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible and continues to mark Flanagan out as a talent to watch.

So if you ever get dejected with the so-called awful state of modern horror filmmaking, all you need to do is look at Hush and you’ll be reminded that effective horror is still alive and well.

You can watch Hush on Netflix right now.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 414

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 447

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10