A woman being violent does not constitute feminism; a concept that so many horror films and their audiences fail to grasp. In Halloween (1978), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) may defend herself by sticking a wire hanger into Michael Myers’ eye, and in Friday the 13th (1980) Alice Hardy’s (Adrienne King) last resort might be to decapitate her tormentor, but what about this gendered violence is to be praised and classed as liberating? Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) is often congratulated on its more genuine feminist portrayals but, to use the character of Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) for illustration, is this because she manages to shoot a gun whilst wearing heels, or because she demonstrates full agency of herself? Generally there is a great confusion within the genre, and yet nobody seems to be talking about one recent film that deserves great praise for being both brilliant and liberating, not just to the feminist cause, but the disabled too.
Directed by Mike Flanagan and distributed by Netflix, Hush (2016) follows deaf-mute author Maddie (Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the film) as her home is invaded, and her life threatened by an unknown stranger (John Gallagher Jr.) in which she must single-handedly protect herself. Whilst this rhetoric might sound contradictory to the opening of this article, the film almost perfectly moulds Maddie into a figure that stands alone from your typical violent Final Girl.
As horror films go, representations of the disabled are far and few. When such characters do occur, however, they are either demonised – at face value – as villainous or, as is the case for Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), tertiary victims. Combine this with the distinct lack of female disability being portrayed, replaced instead by precarious sexuality, it can already be understood why Hush is an important genre piece.
The liberating aspect of the film is not present from when Maddie meets her antagonist, but from its very onset. Maddie lives alone, paying the bills from her earnings as a novelist. She demonstrates a great friendship with her neighbours (Michael Trucco and Samantha Sloyan), a strong bond with her sister (Emma Graves) as they FaceTime, and a romantic interest in the person she iMessages. It is clear that Maddie has full agency of herself. She enjoys living an independent life where her auditory impairment is an insignificant factor; writer’s block provides her with more of an issue. No bold statements have to be made, just seeing an ordinary woman living her life is fulfilling enough.
Of course, once the status quo is knocked and Maddie enters a perilous situation, some typical Final Girl traits do start to creep in. However, by this point, Maddie has already shown an incredible strength. Whilst the film artistically uses her lack of hearing as a device – providing moments where we hear what Maddie hears – her character is resourceful and so she finds solutions whilst we, the audience, are left dazed and confused. Unlike Laurie Strode and Alice Hardy, both of whom depict strength through violence, Maddie’s strength is simply emphasised through violence. It is her independence and resourcefulness at the foundation of her strength, not the fact that she can throw a punch or shoot a crossbow.
Written by Daniel Sheppard