Directed by Mike Flanagan
After delivering genre favorites like Oculus and the lesser-known but equally inventive Absentia, director Mike Flanagan might be expected to continue on with his winning formula of intermingling a supernatural story with character-driven plot lines. With his latest effort Hush, however, Flanagan ditches the supernatural angle altogether in favor of much more simplified approach to horror that owes a great debt to Terence Young’s 1967 psychological thriller Wait Until Dark.
Premiering at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival ahead of its April debut on Netflix, Hush is ultimately as much of a character showcase as it is a pulse-pounding thriller.
The film follows Maddie (Siegel, Oculus), an author who was rendered deaf after a bout of adolescent meningitis. In her adult life she spends her days in a woodland home struggling to finish her next book. Independent of an occasional visit from her neighbor, Maddie is, for all intents and purposes, isolated in her day-to-day routine with technology being her only window into the goings-on of society. This way of living has provided her with a secure sense of solitude for some time, but on one unsuspecting night this familiar safety is threatened as a masked killer (Gallagher, 10 Cloverfield Lane) descends upon her home. Seeking to make Maddie his next victim, the anonymous intruder soon thrusts her into a deadly game of cat and mouse–and she will need to gather all of her strength and wits to survive it.
While home invasion films have been done up and down the block in a number of different ways and with a number of different twists, Flanagan’s approach to this well-worn territory feels very pure in its execution. There is no attempt to hoodwink audiences or throw out a big, convoluted reveal in the third act; through and through Hush is a straightforward story of survival.
Maddie’s hearing impairment naturally sets the stage for many suspenseful sequences with her masked assailant, but Flanagan never utilizes this aspect of the story in a way that feels cheap. While she is certainly very vulnerable in the given scenario, she is not painted as a weak victim who is debilitated by her hearing loss; rather, it enables her to concoct some very ingenious ideas in her fight for survival. Additionally, Flanagan’s manipulation of sound and silence throughout the film serves quite well to place the audience in Maddie’s headspace throughout the course of the increasingly dangerous night. With a single-setting film like this, it is often quite easy to run out of interesting set pieces, but Flanagan makes full use of Maddie’s home, most notably in certain scenes that involve the rooftop and bathroom.
Siegel, who takes on her first starring role as Maddie, strongly delivers in her performance here, dually capturing the character’s vulnerability and unshakeable tenacity. Though not deaf in real life, she brings a believable and genuine touch to the role, using only limited American Sign Language and facial expressions to skillfully convey a vast range of emotion and character-defining traits from the get-go. You get such a strong sense for who Maddie is via Siegel’s subtle and nuanced approach, and you want to root for her to find happiness even before the masked man arrives. Gallagher Jr. continues to be a welcome presence in the genre, playing the mysterious masked man to chilling effect, particularly given that very little is ultimately learned about him over the course of the film.
The script, written by the recently married Flanagan and Siegel, is laudable in its emotional focus amidst the palpable suspense. You come to empathize with and root for Maddie in a major way, and there is a great sense of empowerment that comes from taking this ride into battle with her character. The film’s progressively threatening sequences work to make even the audience feel drained right along with our protagonist, but for all of its violence, Hush will also leave people feeling triumphant by the time the credits roll.
Though there are a couple of moments that feel a bit situationally clunky (one scene involving the masked man and one of Maddie’s distant neighbors comes to mind), the script works well to help audiences suspend disbelief in most instances that would otherwise come across as implausible in other films. Flanagan and Siegel also succeed in providing valid, set-related safeguards in the story that minimize those frustrating moments that might usually leave audiences screaming, “What a dumb decision; why didn’t she just do X instead?!” If Maddie is or is not able to do something in her fight against the masked man, there is always a valid reason behind it.
Above all, I appreciated the script’s ability to keep the audience thoroughly engaged by what is essentially the interaction of two strangers that we do not explicitly know much about, creating a story that is still surprisingly easy to attach to emotionally. Though the film doesn’t entirely elevate the home invasion sub-genre to new heights, it works substantially well to see this emotional subtext fully realized by its end.
Hush is ultimately an exciting exercise in survival and perfectly timed suspense. It is a must-watch for fans of tension-laden plots and strong female roles, establishing Kate Siegel as an actress to keep on eye on in the genre and beyond. Flanagan’s love for horror and fully realized characters is evident here, and I look forward to seeing where he will continue to take genre fans. Horror would do better to have more impassioned directors like this who clearly have as much fun making films as we do watching them.