Opening with a pseudo-slasher within a slasher early on Halloween, it serves as a thesis statement on the lurking horror beneath the still surface of a small American town. We’re then introduced to the masked Rose (Emily Van Raay), our lead that seems as enamored with the spooky holiday as she is bored by it. Granted, the boredom is more rooted in her quiet town where nothing ever happens than it is Halloween. Rose sits on her stoop scaring away the trick or treaters with her fake scars and mask, until her husband agrees to a night out at the local Halloween scream park. Her desire to recapture her relationship with her husband prior to his deployment becomes a night of pure terror instead, making for one unforgettable Halloween.
Like writer/director Sonny Mallhi’s previous two films, Anguish and Family Blood, Hurt also weaves quiet, intense ruminations on real-life relationships and drama with horror and atmosphere. Instead of ghosts and vampires, though, Mallhi’s third effort opts for serious slasher. Emphasis on serious. Mallhi uses the slasher iconography as a treatise on the masks we wear to hide the trauma and scars underneath. More so, Hurt is demonstrative of the repercussions of treating death so irreverently. Both Halloween and slashers make light of death and things that go bump in the night. We cheer when Jason Voorhees claims his latest victim, or giggle at the gruesome props and masks in Halloween haunts, but the reality is that death isn’t a light subject matter. When the slasher part of this story takes over, it’s grim and heavy. It’s downright mean.
Despite Rose’s aloof persona, there’s a lot of turmoil in her life. Her husband Tommy (Andrew Creer) is recently back from his first tour of duty, and struggles to maintain composure overly barely contained PTSD. She doesn’t get along with her sister, Lily (Stephanie Moran), and Tommy’s erratic behavior becomes the most prominent point of contention between sisters. Rose and Tommy try to maintain the relationship status as it was prior to his deployment, both ignoring Tommy’s severe internal struggle.
Because the events of the story take place from dusk till dawn over Halloween night, Mallhi injects few flashback sequences to expand on the relationship between Rose and Tommy. On the one hand, it’s needed to illustrate how much Tommy’s tour altered his personality, but on the other, these scenes are so seamlessly dropped in that it doesn’t always immediately register that they’re not part of the present tense narrative.
The sound design is simple and quiet; wide shots of the town or close-ups of nature against long stretches of near silence really drives home the rural setting. It also allows for those moments of horror to really pack a punch. It’s because of the sound and the way Mallhi frames his shots that the film maintains an unsettling mood throughout. Visual is just as important as sound here, and nothing Mallhi introduces on screen is inconsequential. The camera casually pans over details that seem without importance only to be revealed to have a more profound meaning on the story later.
There is the clunky nature of red herrings, though. When all the pieces finally click into place, the answer is less satisfying than the journey. Mallhi is more interested in the symbolism behind slasher conventions and the real-life drama that could be gleaned from them than a conventional slasher itself. It makes the slasher aspect of the story downright brutal and mean, but also not as prominent as many fans would like.
Hurt is going to be divisive for many. It’s deliberately paced and places a strong emphasis on broken relationships with flawed characters that aren’t easy to root for. It’s not conventional, but it is an admirable attempt to put fear back into the slasher. There’s been a recent trend of Halloween set horror films that use haunted attractions as a cover for sinister and deadly designs, and Mallhi’s latest will inevitably draw comparisons. Mallhi is more interested in applying real-life relationships to the genre than reinventing it. Hurt is for those that want a little more meaning and realism to their slasher, even if it’s familiar.