Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dual/Duel Review: Handicapable Home Invasion Thriller Edition

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here.

The home invasion thriller has been a popular sub-genre for the past few years. The past year (2016 as I write) featured two home invasion thrillers with a shared twist--the home owner had a disability. In Don't Breathe, a trio of teenagers are robbing homes in hopes of a better life, culminating in the robbery of an Iraq War vet who is blind. In Hush, a deaf writer is working at a cabin in the woods (insert cliche joke here) when some random killer shows up and menaces her for 90 per cent of the movie before he moves in for the kill. I've borrowed a key word in the title of my post from the B-Movie Catechism guy's post on Scenes because it made me laugh when I read it. Thanks, Mr. Eegahinc!

Don't Breathe's home owner is a blind war vet with more than enough skills to repel an invasion of twice as many invaders with (and this is probably key) twice as many active brain cells. The teenagers aren't very smart (though seeing the deleted scenes reveals that one boy wanted to become a lawyer, so maybe he was smarter in the original screenplay). Hereafter we will call the home owner "Blind Guy," since he never gets a name in his movie. Hush's home owner is both deaf and mute, having contracted meningitis as a teenager with debilitating effects. She hasn't succumbed to handicap self-pity--she is a published author finishing her second book and apparently would be a great cook if she wasn't distracted by her neighbor. She has a name in her movie, so hereafter we will call her "Maddie."

While Hush's protagonist, Maddie, is obvious, Don't Breathe's protagonist is less clear. The teenaged ne'er-do-wells are clearly wrong for robbing people though at least the girl, Rocky, is made sympathetic by her terrible home life. She promises her younger sister escape from domestic misery to what other land of happiness but Hollywood Los Angeles. Rocky has somewhat noble motivation, unlike her two male compatriots, who are both romantically infatuated with her (and also would like the money--as the deleted scenes reveal, one of the boys wanted the money for law school). The Blind Guy is clearly the monster in the house. He dispatches one of the intruders almost immediately and begins relentlessly stalking the other two, so he seems at least as bad as the teenagers. The big twist in the movie underlines the fact that he is not to be sympathized with, especially when the twist gets more twisted (if you have seen the movie, you know what I mean). Viewers are inevitably lead to root for Rocky as the least evil of the four main characters.

Both home owners have pets. Blind Guy's dog is a fierce predator who menaces the trio of robbers, so he's a pretty useful pet, especially for the filmmakers who want Blind Guy to look like a bad guy. Maddie's cat, by contrast, is a cute and furry companion who is menaced by her unnamed assailant, making the killer all the more evil for killing people and then having the temerity to try and kill an animal too!

Blind Guy goes through much of the movie with almost no dialogue, making him look like an overwhelming force of nature. Maddie also can't communicate except through sign language and her laptop and cell phone (both are Apple products so they are practically the same thing). Maddie has learned to read lips, so she is more capable at communicating than Blind Guy, even though she can't talk anymore. Her assailant ultimately hopes to make Maddie scream in terror, which doesn't work out for him. Lack of dialogue is generally a strength in horror and thriller movies. Relying on images and action is the epitome of the "show, don't tell" style.

Both films are challenged by slightly unbelievable endings. Maddie refuses to go down without a fight--she lasts long enough for the film not to have a dark ending, though the killer could have easily finished her off very early on and his motivation is unclear even by the end. Rocky also keeps on fighting, eventually making it out but not entirely free. The ending reveals a shadow that will always hang over her and her little sister, though the shadow just seems tagged on, i.e. it makes little sense other than to add an extra twist at the end.

Don't Breathe was a fairly big success at the box office (a $10 million budget with $90 million in box office revenue) while Hush didn't have any box office release (a $1 million budget with a straight to internet release). Even with the low budget, Hush still looks respectable and has a similar level of visual quality and artistry as Don't Breathe.

While I appreciated Don't Breathe's genre-bending elements, it does come across as more an exercise in thrills and scares rather than a great story. Hush's story is fairly formulaic, but it has enough classic charm to win me over. I enjoyed them both but if I had to choose only one to rewatch, I'd choose Hush.


Hush--only available on Netflix as I write (March 2016, that is)


Don't Breathe

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