Coming from Mike Flanagan, the director behind the striking, eerie, uneven OCULUS, HUSH tweaks existing horror movie formula to come up with an effective and tense little chiller.
Deaf writer Maddie (Kate Siegel) can’t decide on an ending for her second novel. As she waits for inspiration to hit her and settles in for a long night, a masked man wielding a crossbow (John Gallagher Jr) tries to gain entry to her isolated house…
From the outset sound and silence are emphasised. Noiseless production company logos transition straight into the clattering and sizzling of cooking and back to the void the deaf protagonist hears. Sound editing is sometimes a devalued branch of filmmaking, but here it is key for the drama and this department deserve particular notice for this movie.
They throw down the gauntlet early by commenting that Maddie can keep her readers from guessing the ending of her stories and that’s the least that this film should achieve. For the most part it succeeds in being unpredictable and the screenplay by Flanagan and Kate Siegel is dialogue-light and compelling. The expected beats of a home invasion/slasher horror over the decades are all in there somewhere but not necessarily in the place you’d expect and there are some good plot curve-balls and shocks thrown in for good measure. A clever sequence where Maddie plays the various fatal scenarios of her trying to escape in her head with her internal commentary at how bad an idea each is reminded me a lot (in a good way) of the multiple-choice horror game UNTIL DAWN from last year.
There’s a slasher movie mask early in, but it’s ditched pretty quick. Maddie isn’t being stalked by the uncanny or the vaguely supernatural but by one very human and seriously disturbed guy who enjoys playing with his prey as much as Maddie’s cat does. Kate Siegel is dignified and raw as Maddie, John Gallagher Jr terrifyingly removed from his nice-guy support worker in SHORT TERM 12.
There’s some nice ideas built around how this isn’t the ordinary battle of wits. The killer works out quickly how handicapped his victim is and exploits her almost sole reliance on sight by hiding just out of her field of vision and Maddie in turn must survive by her wits alone, distracting her opponent and using her highly attuned other senses to her advantage (she feels the vibrations of him moving on the floorboards above her hiding place and knows he’s behind her from his breath on her neck later on). It’s a creepy movie and also an eye-opening movie about abusive sickos who get even more of a kick out praying on the vulnerable. The scariest thing the film does is exploring how liberating Ease of Access technology can be for the disabled, but equally how crippling it can be to an individual once it is suddenly taken away again.
It becomes a real battle of the senses in the film’s final act when Maddie decides her only chance is to fight and to improvise with an interesting array of household objects. The horror movie “final girl” cliché is turned on its head as Maddie really starts and ends the film as the final girl. For much of the movie it’s a two-hander between her and her tormentor. The only real thing that changes is that she decides not to be the victim.
It probably wasn’t necessary to have Maddie’s backstory explained on the dust jacket of one of her books. Couldn’t she just be a character born deaf? Her would-be killer didn’t need a backstory so why did she?
The way sound is played with throughout is interesting and it would have been even more so, not to mention braver and bolder to do the whole thing as a silent movie. Even considering these niggles, Hush cements Mike Flanagan’s position as a horror director to watch and makes me hopeful the next script he works on stands out from the crowd as proudly as this one. SSP