Fantasia 2018: HURT Review – When Elevated Horror Falls Flat
Written by Sonny Mallhi
Directed by Sonny Mallhi
Editor’s Note: the version we were supplied with was not the final cut of the film.
It’s Halloween in a tiny Texas town. Rose (Emily Van Raay) and Tommy (Andrew Creer) reconnect over childhood memories at their hometown’s holiday celebration featuring scary mazes, theatrical shows, and haunted hayrides. Recently back from war, Tommy is quiet and distant from his wife. Rose is hopeful for the future and nostalgic for the past, desperately seeking a rekindling with the husband she once knew. When their festivities are cut short by an argument, the night unravels into confusion and terror.
Intrigued by the promise of a thoughtful slasher and the nebulous plot description, I was stoked about Hurt. Stoked, I am no longer. I now understand why the synopsis was so ambiguous. Riding on the atmosphere of Halloween, very little happens in this underwhelming example of “elevated” horror that is more drab than provocative. With only 93 minutes of runtime, it takes over 50 minutes for any threats to materialize into something tangible. And even at that point, much of the action takes place off-screen. After slogging through nearly an hour of runtime, I wasn’t in the mood to keep waiting for something (anything!) interesting to happen.
Reminiscent of Harmony Korine, Hurt drifts between timelines with layered voiceovers in a dreamlike quality. Normally, I’m all in for slow burns and moody crescendos. I am a patient viewer. High body counts and blood splatter are not perquisites for a great slasher. Hurt could have employed a number of tools in favor of these, such as engaging personal conflict, empathy-earning character development, or creative cinematography. It opts to rely on its floaty style, repeating loosely-conceived notions about the realities of violence ad nauseum.
Frustratingly, there are some interesting themes Hurt left woefully underexploited. It contrasts our gleeful spectatorship of violent entertainment with the destabilizing trauma of real-world horrors. Tommy is understandably triggered upon his visit to the Halloween carnival. The fake blood, screaming performances, and prop weapons overwhelm the war veteran. Meanwhile, Rose giggles and smirks at the terrifying spectacle. “Hang the bitch,” she hollers as they watch a staged execution among a boisterous crowd of onlookers, reveling in an opportunity to cheer for death. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is something I’d love to see the horror genre explore in more depth. Hurt stumbles in its exploration, as a series of revelations at the end of the film undermine the most salient themes it presented. Instead of a conclusion that punctuates a statement about violent voyeurism, bloodlust, or PTSD, the movie slides in a confusing twist that only leaves questions about its intent.
Hurt asks a lot of its viewers, but never rewards them for their patience. I respect the thematic underpinnings and the choice to resist the slasher audience’s expectations of violence. I only wish its thesis was fully realized, with more interesting conflict throughout and with more poignance in the finale. The only feeling I walked away with was disappointment.
Hanging on by thin threads of arthouse ideas, Hurt unravels into an uninteresting slasher that’s not worth trudging through.