Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Samantha Sloyan, and Michael Trucco
Horror movies are a dime a dozen. That isn’t necessarily a slam in and off itself. Horror movies are cranked out like trees giving out oxygen. It’s unreal how many movies that exists in the genre in any given year. There’s good ones made, obviously. But the sheer quantity of them makes the lower quality ones more abundant, and thus making the entire genre seem lesser. Every now and then, a movie comes out that is so perfectly calibrated that it reinvigorates your interest in the genre. A movie that is so fantastic and so ingeniously simple, you are stunned that it hasn’t been done before. A movie like that has just hit Netflix this week from Blumhouse Productions. And holy shit, is this movie amazing.
The simplicity of this movie is deceiving. Cause on the basic log line, it’s a home invasion movie. A killer is stalking an isolated woman in her isolated home in the woods, waiting for the time to strike. This is very similar to The Strangers on the surface. But what really sets it apart is the little detail of the hunted woman (Siegel) being deaf. It’s a completely status quo shifting detail and one that makes the movie much richer than it really has any right to be. There’s all this talk regarding Hollywood these days about diversity and representation, yet the deaf don’t get much press. But seeing how it’s done here, it adds so many new things to deal with. The very simple fact of taking away sound from your protagonist makes things that much tenser. Because if the killer is near here and she doesn’t notice, it isn’t because of typical movie bullshit of characters being oblivious to the world around them. It’s an actual handicap that heightens our tension, and then hers when she realizes she’s in. Just a completely ingenious element to throw into the mix.
The cast here is tiny as hell. There’s 4 characters the entire time, with only two being on screen for any real amount of time, and only one of them being given any sort of character details to work with. The detailed character is our deaf heroine, played by Siegel. Her character is a writer with a very analytical brain. When writing her books, she always comes up with multiple outcomes to scenarios. After getting sick as a child which cost her her hearing and voice, she’s basically become a highly independent woman that keeps to herself. She is no victim and no sob story. And Siegel plays all of this perfectly. There’s no overly dramatic actor tricks to play deaf. She just inhabits the character so well that you believe it. You believe the strength that lies within her, as well as the fierce intelligence. But you also don’t feel like it’s a betrayal of the character when she cries in fear and feels defeated. The scenario laid out is one that is easy to feel defeated. It’s a fantastic character, conveyed without a single word of dialogue and it helps to make the movie work.
The other element to make the movie work is Gallagher Jr. His role as the killer is one that could be a simple role, just throwing a stuntman into the role to be physically imposing or believable as a knife wielder. But casting Gallagher is smart because he’s a good actor and he’s not the typical killer in this kind of movie. He’s a nebbish dude. This isn’t a man you’d fear if you saw him in a bar. This is a beta male at his finest, the man who would probably be called an MRA and only goes after solitary women to get his jollies. And we get no info about him at all. No motivation, no backstory. Nothing. All we can infer from him is based in how he acts and how he moves. It’s a great performance, making him stand out above the simple masked maniacs in these kinds of movies. He’s banal evil, someone you can meet and it’s scary.
Flanagan has done some masterful work here. As a director and as a writer. Because this is a perfectly crafted movie. As a director, his choices are top notch. The visuals are gorgeous, his framing is great and helps to make the movie feels bigger than it’s indie roots and it’s tension building is phenomenal. His use of sound and lack thereof in scenes is riveting. Making the movie feel complete and whole, without divulging any extraneous information that doesn’t affect the movie. This is a completely in the moment movie, and it’s riveting. It’s an amazing directing job, crafting unbearable tension for the vast majority of the movie. And as a writer, in conjunction with Siegel (also his wife in addition to being his star), crafts a lean and muscular movie that just kicks ass the entire time. The way everything unfolds is natural and ingenious. It helps us get to know Siegel with just her reactions to the scenario. And by eschewing motivation for the attacks is key. This is just a simple survival tale, with no overwrought bullshit to drag it down to cliched territory for the cheap seats. Even the violence is uncomplicated. But the way it’s done is horrific. Because we care about Siegel, and it hurts when she hurts. And the way Flanagan films it is so brutal and visceral that you can’t help but feel the pain when the blood is spilled. It’s an unflinching movie, not afraid to put Siegel though the wringer. But it doesn’t make Gallagher infallible. He is a totally human presence and it makes this game all the more thrilling because it really could go anyway. And the way they use the deafness in the movie is great and I won’t give anything away. But the way every little thing is set up and then paid off by the end is fantastic. Just immense filmmaking on every level.
Suffice it to say, I love this fucking movie. It wasn’t even on my radar until a few days before I watched it. But holy shit am I glad it got to me because this is a perfect ride. From the writing to the directing to the acting, every element is perfect. I haven’t been able to get this movie out of my head for days now, and I don’t expect it too for a while. The main thing I can’t get over is how fucking deceptively simple it is. Just so god damn clever and ingenious without spilling over into meta cleverness or bloated storytelling. This movie goes to show that even the most cliched narrative can be juiced up with the right details thrown into the mix. Just a fabulous movie that needs to be seen.