Blumhouse's latest thriller is tense and deceptively clever, but undoes its thrills with no shortage of irritating fakeouts.
Trauma appears to be the monster in Sonny Mallhi’s Hurt, but things aren’t exactly as they seem. While the Blumhouse-produced thriller maintains an almost uncomfortable sense of tension, it suffers from too many fake outs and red herrings for its own good.
Following a cleverly deceptive opener, the action abruptly switches to Rose (Emily van Raay), a young woman celebrating Halloween in her rural Texas town. Rose’s idea of Halloween “fun” seems a little unnecessarily cruel, like terrorizing children with fake knives and made up stories about murdering her father in revenge for mutilating her face. She’s been dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood, and she simmers with barely contained hostility toward her sister and brother-in-law, who live nearby. The only person Rose outwardly expresses warmth towards is her husband, Tommy (Andrew Creer), recently returned from deployment and barely holding it together after being exposed to the horrors of war.
After an evening of awkwardly getting used to each other’s company again, Rose and Tommy decide to go to a surprisingly elaborate for a small-town Halloween carnival. If you guessed that someone with a fresh case of PTSD probably wouldn’t do too well in a haunted house, well, you’d be correct. Tommy experiences a violent breakdown and abandons Rose at the carnival, setting the stage for a night of terror, as someone is intent on showing Rose what death looks like up close.
If my plot description of Hurt is a little skimpy, well, so is the plot itself. Once Rose and Tommy get to the carnival, that’s the end of getting to know them as characters, and what we learn up to that point is sparse at best. Except for a brief flashback where there’s barely any dialogue, we don’t know anything about Tommy before his deployment, nor do we know why Rose is angry, except perhaps because her sister nags her about needing to grow up. While the film does ultimately turn into a slasher movie, and slasher movies aren’t known for their rich, complex character studies, it starts as a psychological drama, but doesn’t really develop Rose and Tommy much beyond stock “unhappy young couple trapped in a small town” archetypes. Because they remain a bit incomplete as people, what they’re eventually put through loses some of its dramatic impact.
What Hurt does well is keep you guessing how things are going to play out as it abruptly shifts tone and even genres. The quietly tense domestic scenes are considerably better than the stock “girl running around a house screaming” scenes, if for no other reason than the sense of something not right that hangs over everything, even a shot of Rose popping a frozen dinner into the microwave. Tommy seems as anxious and disoriented as an alien dropped from a spaceship directly onto Rose’s front lawn, and she treats him with the unease of a stranger with a familiar face. They really only seem to warm up to each other once they’re at the carnival, where they spent their first date.
That such a place of safe nostalgia would ultimately trigger a breakdown for Tommy is a tragedy worth exploring, and the fact that we don’t really see much of him after that is a disappointment. He and Rose feel like characters at the start of a gripping story about a veteran struggling with untreated mental illness, a subject recently addressed in the critically acclaimed Leave No Trace but one that is still woefully underexplored. Hurt isn’t a bad movie, even when it feels like three separate movies hastily stitched together, but Rose and Tommy don’t belong in it.