**Warning – Spoiler Alert**
When I was in Year 6, I was assigned homework of writing a book review. I chose ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. I was too lazy however, to actually read the book so I reviewed the film instead. Turns out, the film is different to the book! Who knew, eh?
Although I got a bad mark for my ‘book review’, apparently had it been to write a film review, even at 11 years old, I was told it was very good. This memory lead me to this blog post, where I thought I would write a post on something I had seen relating to deafness in some way, from a hearing person’s perspective who works with deaf people.
Recently, my boyfriend and I invested in a joint Netflix account (I know – serious commitment, right?). This has resulted in me wasting many hours of my life scrolling through the programmes and films to see if anything becomes of interest.
I noticed the film ‘Hush’, which immediately stole my attention. It is a horror/thriller film about a successful deaf author (Maddie) who lives in a beautiful and secluded woodland as she prepares to finish writing her second book. Unfortunately, she cannot hear the dangers that are surrounding her such as a masked man who intrudes into her home with the intent of killing her and the screams of her neighbour begging for help before she is murdered on Maddie’s porch.
My initial thoughts are that the concept of the film is quite interesting, although a little bit cliche. The whole ‘attractive woman stuck in her house in the woods who needs saving’ does not make this film unique in any way. I was however, excited to see which direction the director took the film, how dangerous things would become for a woman who was unable to hear, having to rely on other senses to enable her survival. Would she be portrayed as strong, fearless and independent? Or would she be seen as helpless and unable to support herself?
Usually, I am the biggest baby when it comes to horror films. I even hid behind my sofa when watching Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’ which starred Eddie Murphy. That’s right – it was basically a comedy and I was hiding. I was therefore surprised that I was able to watch ‘Hush’ the entire way through without hiding my face behind my hands.
Despite not getting the exciting adrenaline jumps and thrills (disappointing), as a spectator, we do get to see some elements and insight into deaf home life.
Firstly, Maddie is cooking her dinner when she decides to go outside to talk to her neighbour. The neglect for her food (which looked like it could have been a very delicious meal – although I don’t think that’s the point of the scene) burns and it sets the fire alarm off. Along with some very loud ringing, there were flashes of big bright blue lights too. The flashing lights brought Maddie’s attention to the house and she was able to defuse the situation. I was really pleased to see that feature installed into her home. The scene allows people who may be curious about what adjustments deaf people make to their homes, understand what is needed in order to make them safe.
A landlord for one of the houses I rented at University refused to do this for my deaf housemate at the time, and when I saw how bright and attention grabbing the alarm was in the film, it made me feel very angry about the situation my friend was put in a few years ago.
We also see a blurb to Maddie’s first novel. It explains a little bit about Maddie’s life and how she was born hearing and went deaf at 13 as she fell ill with meningitis. Due to this, she went on to learn American Sign Language as her main way of communicating.
It is clear that Maddie also communicates through texting, E-mail and Skype. The use of technology here for Maddie is really vital in order for her to communicate to her friends and family. It is in fact, during a skype call that her friend tells her she thought she saw someone in Maddie’s house – yet it is dismissed as the cat.
The dependency on this technology becomes a problem for Maddie when the villain turns off all the power in her home so she can no longer use her laptop (her phone was taken) to contact people. She loses all connection and is unable to call for help.
When we first meet the main actress who plays Maddie, I was impressed with her confident and clear signing, it made her easy to understand, even as a spectator who knows no American Sign Language. There also seemed to be no use of subtitles, unless she was spelling out words, which I enjoyed: comparing the ASL alphabet to the BSL one.
I was thinking how much I had liked the actress, so decided to see what other films she may have been in. Turns out, she is actually hearing, and I automatically started to dislike her. There are so many wonderful and skilled deaf actresses out there, why did the director choose a hearing actress to play the lead? For me, there seems to be a fine line between acting a particular character, and just pretending to be deaf.
I wonder how much research the lead had done to ‘play’ a deaf character. The way in which the character was portrayed is that Maddie did not have the ability to use her voice at all. This seems particularly strange as we had learnt previously in the film that Maddie went deaf once she was 13, yet Maddie does not make any sounds at all. She is completely silent throughout the film. When she is stabbed, she makes no screams. When she cries out of desperation to escape her house, she makes no noise. When her neighbour describes her, he says she has no ability to use her voice. Except, in my experience of working with deaf people, someone who used to be able to hear and use spoken language as their form of communication before they went deaf, would not automatically lose total control and ability to use their voice. They may not want to use their voice, and choose to sign instead, but ‘Maddie’ once had heard her voice and knew how to use it. I found it very patronising to deaf people, that because she is deaf, she was automatically portrayed as ‘mute’ and not able to talk.
Apart from the fact the killer had absolutely no motive to kill Maddie and was just randomly terrorising her, he would talk through her windows very slowly and say ‘can you read my lips’ or ‘do you understand what I am saying?’. The voice he would put on when talking to Maddie was not natural. It was deliberately very slow and condescending. It made me think, however, maybe I was getting too personally involved in the film, and maybe he was just doing a good job at playing a psychotic, lunatic killer.
Overall, I found the film quite weak with regards to the relationship to deafness. The story line was really quite basic and the lead character did not need to be deaf in order for the film to work. I liked that Maddie was successful in her job, although, when she writes a note to the killer, some of her letters are the wrong way round. I hope it was not a way of making her seem stupid, as she is a famous author, it did not make sense. There was a lack of consistency. Had the lead actress actually been deaf, perhaps she could have given her own life experiences to aid the film.
Oh yeah, and Maddie survives, just.