Hush. 2016. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan & Kate Siegel.
Starring John Gallagher Jr, Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, & Emma Graves. Intrepid Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
I’m unabashedly a fan of Mike Flanagan. While a lot of people were blown away by his horror Oculus, as well as the short film which preceded it, my favourite of his work has been the smaller, even more independent feature Absentia – a story of grief, loss, tragedy, and ghosts. Flanagan is capable of capturing terror in a way that doesn’t necessarily require the typical jump scares or other cliches expected from the horror genre. Not saying he doesn’t go for them now and then. Rather, he doesn’t rely on it as a technique to gain him the audience’s terror.
So, once Hush came along – premiering worldwide today on Netflix – the premise alone guarantees there’ll be a few interesting tweaks to the horror sub-genre of home invasion. What might, at the hands of a lesser director, be a generically tedious slasher-like horror becomes a nicely crafted work of tension and suspense that delivers more than just creeps around the corner and a few mild frights. A quiet, unnerving piece of cinema, Hush is another proper notch on the terrifying belt of Flanagan.
Living in a house in the woods, Maddie (Kate Siegel) – a deaf woman – spends her days in virtual isolation. Although, she does have friends nearby who check on her, come to visit, as well as read her work, as she is a budding author.
But one evening, as the sun starts to go down, she finds herself being stalked by a masked man (John Gallagher Jr). Once things take a turn for the worse and the man unmasks himself, Maddie realizes there may only be one way out: kill, or be killed. As the night progresses, she has to fight for her life if making it out alive will ever be an option.
Will Maddie’s deafness spell her murder? Or will she defend herself and her home from the unknown assailant?
Dig the way Flanagan gives us the inner world of Maddie. Early on, she writes in her novel and her inner voice rattles through variant sentences, different thoughts, et cetera. So there’s this incredible effect of her being deaf, though, still being able to hear her own voice in her head. And that’s juxtaposed with the fact things can happen around her without being noticed. Quickly after we watch her writing the novel, a masked man kills her friend right outside, banging her against the doors. Immediately, we’re setup with the premise, all it entails. Going forward, Flanagan uses all this in order to play on our emotions, to set up tense situations, and to draw out every bit of suspense possible.
What’s even more interesting is how Flanagan and star Siegel, also co-writer and life partner to the director, have crafted 80-odd minutes of film, only about 15 of which actually has any dialogue. So around 70 minutes of Hush goes by with the natural sounds of Maddie breathing, moving around the house, as the man stalking her is silent most of the time, too. To create an atmosphere of palpable dread, and also uncertainty, out of a film that spends so much time in quietude, Flanagan really does get to show off his chops. Above the horror and thriller elements, this home invasion flick tries to give us a central character whose trajectory is not solely defined by helplessness. Yes, Maddie is helpless in that she’s both deaf and lives in an isolated area. Although that does not define who she comes to be over the course of the film. In fact, she’s actually defined by her power, the fact she actively fights back and takes a proactive role in her own defense. Despite her disability, Maddie does not fail herself, she doesn’t make a ton of idiotic decisions like so many “Final Girls” and other similar characters typical of the horror genre. There’s no reinvented wheel here. Simply, Flanagan and Siegel aim to try and do something different, unusual with a cliche home invasion sub-genre setup.
In part, the sound design is a major aspect to the film’s mood. Obviously in a story that centers on a deaf woman there’s going to be some type of effort on part of the director to bring us into her world. For instance, right off the bat Maddie is cooking – the audience hears everything loud, boisterous, the water bubbling, the garlic getting crushed, vegetables chopped. The sound design is heavy and almost abrasive. Then quickly, Flanagan takes us inside Maddie’s brain. The room becomes silent, airtight, not a single sound escapes. Frequently, we’re taken back into her head, as a space that sort of closes us off from the sound design. Even then, we hear the dull thump of sounds around her, the slight sounds in the environment, though, she hears absolutely nothing. This does heighten the suspense and tension. Then when a scene comes where there’s dialogue, it almost feels foreign, and the entire time you’re feeling unnerved, uneasy about what may happen. There comes a point the audience is almost more comfortable in the silence than they are with normal sounds. Furthermore, Maddie speaks to herself, in her head. So because of the amount of time we’re treated to what’s happening inside her mind, Maddie’s perspective feels like our own. This could be accomplished just by spending the entire film with her. At the same time, allowing us access to her inner sanctum, while also getting the perspective outside her head, this really cements the feeling as a first-person perspective that sometimes allows us third-person insight.
What could have easily been typical, drawn out, boring, becomes exciting material at the hands of director Mike Flanagan. Along with Kate Siegel, both star and writer, this story evolves into a nice treat for fans of the horror genre, as well as the home invasion sub-genre. Absolutely, Hush is a 4-star affair. Flanagan knows how to work with dread. Here, he allows us over 80 minutes to become emotionally attached to Maddie, to understand her, and mostly, root for her survival. With perfect sound design, a very fun score by The Newton Brothers, plus a knockout performance from Siegel and John Gallagher Jr giving us his ghoulish best as the man after her, Hush is jam packed with enjoyable, nail-biting moments.
Available as of today on Netflix, you really should check this out and see what it has to offer. Here’s to hoping Flanagan keeps making more solid horror movies, and that his adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game actually comes to life, because this setup was a great way to start exploring some of the techniques which might be useful in filming that.