The Sensory Deprivation Horror Triple Feature

After a long week at work, more often than not, nothing is better than watching a horror movie.

Recently, I have begun to become very fascinated with creating my own double bill movie viewings at home, spicing up my regular viewing experiences. I just did a double bill of Silent Night Deadly Night and Christmas Evil during the holidays, and I even did a twin bill of “Corny 80’s Action Movies At Christmas”: two pure popcorn action flicks set during Xmas, including Invasion U.S.A (with Chuck Norris) and Dark Angel aka I Come in Peace (with Dolph Lundgren). The triple feature, however, has been something I haven’t quite been able to pull off.

This past weekend, I checked out Sandra Bullock’s Netflix release Bird Box. As I was watching it, I was enamored with the premise of having to navigate your life without one of your senses, in this case eyesight. Then it hit me. My mind immediately reflected on two other movies that had a similar theme of being involved in a scary situation or day-to-day life without the use of one of your five basic senses (Touch, Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste). Now, I introduce you to the “Sensory Deprivation” Triple Feature, which I recommend viewing in this order – Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, Mike Flanagan’s Hush, starring Kate Siegel, and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, starring Krasinski and Emily Blunt.

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Just released a few weeks back exclusively on Netflix, Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on the bestselling novel by Josh Malerman, centers around main character Malorie, played with the usual full commitment by Sandra Bullock. The world has suddenly fallen into mad hysteria, as some unknown and mysterious force has driven most of the world’s population to spontaneously commit acts of violence, with the most common being immediate suicide caused by something only the individual can see. Malorie has survived five years in this desolate new world, caring for and teaching two very young children, Boy and Girl, how to survive. After receiving a radio communication of a possible sanctuary that is two days’ journey down a treacherous river, we flashback to how she came to this point in her long excursion, seeing the variety of individuals and situations she had to endure to get here. Can Malorie and her two children survive the two day ordeal of traveling down a river without eyesight toward possible sanctuary, or will this finally be the end for her?

Despite some obvious budget restriction here and there (clearly due to it being a Netflix release), director Bier does an excellent job of crafting a world that makes you fully committed to the sudden collapse of society and mankind as a whole. Sequences involving driving blind through a city street with only a internal GPS to guide you and every scene that involves Malorie’s treacherous journey down a formidable river successfully puts the viewer on edge and allows us to form connections to these people, caring if they actually survive or not, which is harder for some horror movies to accomplish than you think. However, above all else, this movie’s effectiveness is all due to Sandra Bullock. She is one of the best actresses around, and she displays that at every turn, especially from the brief opening speech she gives to the two children in her care. I also wanted to call out a great supporting turn from John Malkovich as a curmudgeon old man shacked up in a house with Bullock and other survivors in a flashback sequence. It’s always nice to see him working and he always brings his A-game to any material.

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Next up is Mike Flanagan’s Hush. This, in my opinion, is the most tension filled movie of the three and perhaps might be my favorite among them as well. Maddie, a deaf novelist (Flanagan regular Kate Siegel) has retreated to a cabin in the woods to live a more quiet and simple existence. One night, after having her best friend over for a visit, she is shocked to find a masked killer is standing outside her house. Armed with her wits but unable to always know where he lurks at all times due to her handicap, can Maddie go toe-to-toe with a seemingly insane madman and make it out alive, or will this masked individual complete what he came here to do? Director Mike Flanagan, as of late, has developed himself into a master of the genre with such releases as Gerald’s Game and the magnificently scary and beautiful series The Haunting of Hill House. Hush was Flanagan’s 2nd major feature (after 2013’s Oculus), and with this release he had already established himself as someone who knows how to wring a viewer dry and have them clenching their armrests for a consistent 90 minutes.

The movie takes place completely within the confines of Maddie’s house, and Flanagan does an amazing job of building up tension and making us care about this woman, who doesn’t even know why she is being targeted. Flanagan makes great use of the multiple windows and entrances to the outside, having the killer slowly stalking in the background in many shots, always causing unease and dread throughout. Considering Maddie is the central character and on screen alone for most of the movie, and the fact that she is deaf and unable to speak, Kate Siegel did a remarkable job of making the viewer care about her plight and root for her to do as much harm to this psychopath as possible. Hush is a great example of a great filmmaker making the most of a minimal budget to get the correct emotional reaction that he wants to retrieve from the audience. Top flight suspense provided by a top flight director.

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Our final film, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, is the big budget studio entry of our triple feature, the movie that got a major theatrical release and had a heavy marketing campaign to support it. It also reviewed very well and was a box office smash. After a race of creatures, who hunt you on the slightest sound you make, eradicate most of the world’s population, a family of survivors have learned to live a silent existence amongst the ruins. While trying to figure out what these creatures are, and how they can defeat them, can this family, which is about to welcome a new baby, endure in a world where they can hardly muster a sound, or will these creatures finally claim them as their latest victim? Director, writer and star John Krasinski, who you might know better as Jim from the TV show The Office, is probably not the 1st name you would think of to make a horror movie, but if this proves anything, it shows that anyone can make an effective, tension filled horror experience if they are invested and know how to handle themselves.

The concept of creatures who hunt on the smallest sound is a truly scary thought and maximized to the fullest extent in this movie, none more so than the opening sequence that ends with a tragic event that deeply affects the family and is the main plot point within the familial unit throughout the movie. This movie is filled with numerous tense scenes (the corn silo part comes to mind), but the one that makes this movie a classic of suspense is the entire sequence which involves Emily Blunt’s Evelyn, a staircase, a baby about to be born, a bathtub and a stalking creature. This entire scene is the best example you can present of how to build nail biting tension and wring the viewer of any sweat they might have in their body. It’s definitely going to be considered a classic and one of the best as the years go on. All of the actors do a great job of shaping a loving but regimented family unit, caring for each other but utilizing tough love in order to keep everyone safe and alive from the horrors of the outside world. It should be noted that this also had one of the best endings in recent memory, a truly stand up and cheer moment that got my blood pumping as I rose out of my seat and made my way out of the theatre to my car.  

Reflecting back on all three of the movies, I am really amazed at how each film has a distinct style and visual presence. All three directors (Bier, Krasinski, Flanagan) display a keen knowledge of how to keep the viewer in constant suspense with the hook mechanic that each movie presents. I feel like most double and triple features usually have one movie that, while definitely falling in line with the thematic arc that all the movies are trying to accomplish, is usually of a lower quality or simply not as executed well as their brethren. I don’t believe that is the case here. Each movie is able to stand on its own as a great piece of suspense and tension, and together they make quite the formidable group. Set aside six hours this weekend and try this triple bill out for yourself and try to imagine yourself navigating these situations without the assistance of one of your major senses. I’m sweating just thinking about it.