Director: Sonny Mallhi
Writer: Solomon Gray, Sonny Mallhi
Producer: Robert Menzies, Sonny Mallhi
Stars: Emily van Raay, Andrew Creer, Michelle Treacy, Stephanie Moran, Bradley Hamilton
A troubled marriage reaches a tipping point after Halloween night events trigger a struggling soldier’s PTSD.
If “Hurt” has a specific style in mind, message it wishes to impart, or artistic objective it aims to achieve, I can’t tell what any of those might be. When a post obscures the faces of a couple as they lean in to kiss, is it because director Sonny Mallhi wants to establish suggestive subtext regarding the moment, or because the camera couldn’t frame a better angle? Is the ten-minute prologue a critically important thematic parallel for the core film that follows, or just a padded preamble meant to misdirect? Are lens flares, non-sequitur flashbacks, and jarring shot selections part of a plan to give the movie a run-and-gun guerrilla feel, or simply the product of carelessly casual craftsmanship? Most importantly, is it a viewer’s job to puzzle these problems out or does the film bear a responsibility to more clearly spell out its intentions?
“Hurt” opens oddly. For nearly two minutes, a singer-songwriter serenades softly on the soundtrack as a tree breezily sways over credits. The subsequent montage echoes the same summertime serenity. Some camping kids build a bong out of a Big Red can. One of their friends cools off in nearby water. Another waves her hand in the air as though orchestrating the narcoleptic musical accompaniment. Like he did with his previous feature “Family Blood” (review here), Mallhi burns “Hurt” on a long wick with an initial fire of minimum intensity.
Act One continues rolling forward in this fashion. Horror starts taking shape when additional scenes introduce a family of masked killers setting sights on the teens. This unusual juxtaposition joined with a leisurely pace establishes the strange texture of a slasher movie as interpreted by an arthouse auteur, like if Richard Linklater tried rebooting “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” What Mallhi chooses to do with this mood is where the wagon’s wheels start rattling.
“Hurt” pulls a switcheroo as this turns out to merely be a movie within the movie being watched by a young girl having a hard time acting and a young boy whose dialogue clearly comes from ADR. Not for the last time, “Hurt” leaves the audience up to its own devices to interpret the resonant value of a lengthy scene whose reason for inclusion isn’t immediately apparent.
The next stop on the young girl’s neighborhood trick-or-treat tour at last introduces Rose, who essentially assumes the mantle of central character. Inarguably the film’s biggest boon, Emily van Raay turns in a blisteringly honest performance as an average girl whose former ambitions gave themselves over to a small town cage. Raay develops a heartbreakingly intriguing onscreen personality, although “Hurt” stymies Rose’s development on either side with meandering material.
Rose spends several minutes subtly scaring the little girl using a fake scar, mask, and traumatic story. Rose spends several more interacting with her husband Tommy, a soldier recently returned from combat, over a beer outside. Rose’s sister and brother-in-law then join them for more jawing before Tommy retires to the bathroom for a private PTSD breakdown.
Eventually, which is a word that doesn’t completely convey how long it truly takes, the movie removes its feet from the contemplative relationship study involving Rose’s family and treads into the territory teased to anyone who entered anticipating a traditional thriller. Rose and Tommy take an impromptu trip to the local Halloween haunt where they had their first date, but encounter trouble when screaming sounds and violent images trigger Tommy, kickstarting a terrifying evening that isn’t exactly what it seems.
And not being what it seems hammers the final nail in the film’s unfulfilling coffin. “Hurt” features a twist that induces cringes not for its lack of cleverness, but for trading on any integrity of commentary concerning troubled marriages and military veteran reintegration to conclude on an unsatisfying shock. The lasting impression becomes that of a movie uncertain of its identity as a fright film or atmospheric drama, and that started firing blindly before all of its ducks were in a row.
As motes of ambiguity settle, the movie’s willful wandering through meditative passivity makes it come across like a cinematic experiment without a working hypothesis. Scalpels make incisions and beakers bubble with chemicals, or in this case, characters come and go and unconnected events randomly occur onscreen. Looking at the incomplete picture put together in the end, there exists no evident certainty that Sonny Mallhi and his collaborators had a roadmap for a movie other than to go on an exploratory journey and hope kismet cooperated one way or another. Most unfortunately for everyone, it didn’t.
Review Score: 35