Although Mike Flanagan’s 2016 film Hush may not be the most revolutionary story ever told—a woman, who lives alone in the middle of nowhere, needs to outlast and outsmart a killer who’s trying to hunt her—its protagonist is more than noteworthy. Hush, which was co-written by Flanagan and Kate Siegel, does two wonderful things. First, it tries to bring some much-needed representation to horror and secondly, it changes the final-girl trope audiences know all too well.
Deafness in ‘Hush’
The movie focuses on the narrative of Madison “Maddie” Young (Siegel), an author who lives alone in the woods with her cat, and whose biggest challenge at the start of the movie is trying to overcome writer’s block. We also learn fairly early in the film that Maddie lost her ability to hear and speak due to bacterial meningitis when she was a teenager, which was made permanent due to an operation that went badly. Although her deafness is used to heighten the tension and underline the threat of the man hunting her, it’s never used to suggest that Maddie is weak or an easy target. Her deafness isn’t depicted in a way that gives her a supernatural advantage (like having preternaturally heightened senses, for example). In fact, her having a disability isn’t treated like anything other than normal.
The horror industry is no exception when it comes to a lack of representation in film. The genre rarely features characters with disabilities and when it does, it’s rarely in a positive light, or one which doesn’t play to harmful stereotypes. As explained by Daniel Sheppard in the piece “Hush: Revolutionizing the Final Girl,” “When such characters do occur, however, they are either demonized – at face value – as villainous or, as is the case for Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), tertiary victims. Combine this with the distinct lack of female disability being portrayed, replaced instead by precarious sexuality, it can already be understood why Hush is an important genre piece.”
And it is an important horror staple. Maddie is the epitome of a strong female protagonist. She’s independent, owns her own home, has an enviable career as an author, and is shown to be in a healthy romantic relationship. Her strength throughout the movie isn’t a result of the tumultuous situation she’s being forced into, but rather it’s simply because she’s a tough, courageous, and resourceful woman. While her disability is certainly a means of raising the stakes in the plot and key aspect of the narrative, however, it isn’t done in a way meant to cheapen her character or her deafness. According to “What A Movie Like Hush Means For Disabled Representation,” by Kristen Lopez, “Maddie’s disability is a disadvantage, but not one exploited. The Man incorrectly assumes Maddie is weaker or deficient, tapping on the glass and standing behind her as a means of testing her disability. But by the end, Maddie’s disability ends up being an advantage … And those who are disability-free—Maddie’s friends Sarah and John (Samantha Sloyan and Michael Trucco) are quickly dispatched, proof positive able-bodiedness doesn’t equal invincibility.”
While Maddie certainly deserves a spot on our list for being an iconic feminist in horror, we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t mention one last thing. While it’s great that her character helps encourage diversity in film, an even better way to encourage this representation would be by hiring actors with disabilities. Much like the casting of Millicent Simmonds as Regan Abbott in 2018’s A Quiet Place, the film industry should be making room for diversity in front of, and behind, the camera too.
Be sure to check back for the next installment in our Greatest Feminist Icons in Horror series, coming to Tilt throughout October. For our up-to-date list, click here.