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Hurt
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by Jay Seaver

"Homecoming horrors."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Hurt" plays fair enough as it warns the audience that it's not necessarily telling the story they think, and that it's going to be inward-looking, but is that really enough to make up for switching so much out late? On top of that, there's the question of just how vigorously the filmmakers intend to bite the hand that feeds them by making a horror movie about how horror movies are problematic. Would Blumhouse really make a movie about how horror movies are more trouble than they seem?

Probably not, but it nevertheless finds an interesting angle in today's self-aware horror world by starting with - well, there's a prelude of sorts, so eventually getting to - Rose (Emily Van Raay), a woman who became a fan because of the man who would become her husband (Andrew Creer), getting really into it, and then having Tommy return home after time in the military and clearly not yet ready to see sudden noises and mutilated bodies as something fun again, despite it being Halloween. Things are tense at a get-together with Rose's sister Lily (Stephanie Moran) and her husband Mark (Bradley Hamilton), with a trip to the local haunted house and hayride serving s a tipping point.

Writer/director Sonny Mallhi displays an interesting sort of wary fondness for his genre as the movie starts - his pastiche of slasher films may be a bit exaggerated but it's also kind of good, enough so that a viewer might feel a little disappointment upon discovering that it's not a "real" part of the movie. It meets the audience on their own turf, establishing horror as good entertainment rather than a campy strawman. Still, you wonder about slasher movies being a thing little kids can just pull out of their pocket and watch, and Rose's enthusiasm is right on the line between mostly harmless fun and off-putting. It seems like a slower, more methodical build than horror movies that go meta usually are because it never goes out of its way to prove its bona fides or cast its heroes as outsiders. This stuff is mainstream here, even if some folks are a more into it than others.

The middle section of the movie is a smart play on this, offering up a shaken Tommy and slipping the fact that he's the one who got Rose into this stuff in just casually enough to make one think of how converts can often be more enthusiastic than those born into something, and not feeling the need to dig too deep into his specific war trauma - straying too far from the general idea would hurt the contrast. Once stuff actually starts happening, the movie becomes a dead-serious thriller which manages genuine horror - Mallhi taps into a genuine dread when characters fear a somewhat undefined worst and makes the result of murder feel genuinely awful as well as bloody - the dead always look like they've let their loved ones down by not surviving.

He also uses a strong cast well, seeming to have a clear-eyed look at rural America and handling just how young and unprepared some a lot of people around the military are for serious adult things. Emily Van Raay makes Rose not exactly childish but a bit immature, more invested in the chance to play that Halloween represents than anything else at first, while Andrew Creer has Tommy come across as dazed and always trying to act like things are normal because he doesn't know anything else. They're unprepared for how the war has changed him and probably not really ready to be married - and they relate to each other with obvious affection but always seem a little more lost than they should.

The richness of the characters and setting is part of what makes the finale something of a disappointment; it seems to leave an empty space, and every twist in a movie threatens to make its themes less potent the first time through as resonant ideas become gears in a machine. That happens here, even though the filmmakers employ enough artistic flourishes to make sure the audience sees that they're going for more than just "gotcha!".

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32427&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/16/18 01:17:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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