Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Producer: Trevor Macy, Jason Blum
Stars: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emma Graves
A deaf mute fights for survival when a masked man terrorizes her inside an isolated woodland home.
Being deaf and mute doesn’t prevent Maddie Young from enjoying some celebrity as a novelist, though her social life certainly hasn’t seen as much success. Still reeling from a rocky relationship, Maddie has settled for the solitude of an isolated house surrounded by trees, where the only disturbance comes from a motherly inner voice lashing Maddie to pound out more pages on the computer.
Tonight, writer’s block worries and ex-boyfriend woes are the least of her troubles. Because a crossbow-wielding masked man has made Maddie his target for a one-on-one game of predator versus prey, for no better reason than because he can.
With no voice to scream, and no one nearby to hear her if she did, Maddie is on her own against the madman. Maintaining her wits and summoning strength to match the murderer’s requires all the courage and cunning she can manage. With a mind like hers, Maddie’s mental arsenal might be exactly the weaponry required to turn the tables on this deadly killer.
Alongside Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe,” Mike Flanagan’s “Hush” was one of two home invasion horror movies to premiere at SXSW 2016. Both are similarly backed by largely wordless scripts forcing audiences to feast on sight and sound-driven suspense while following a silent faceoff between intruders and the intruded. Where they differ is in the former’s focus on breakneck-paced brutality against the latter’s intent to have calmer characterizations contextualizing carnage.
“Don’t Breathe” (review here) fashions itself from a domino-falling frenzy that is highly attractive to havoc-hungry appetites. “Hush” devotes more of its time to inflating balloons instead of repeatedly popping them. This accordion approach to creating tension doesn’t give “Hush” the same relentless energy that sees “Don’t Breathe” in a start-to-finish full sprint. Yet that difference in tempo separates “Hush” as a movie aiming for subtle psychological appeal as much as it does for visceral.
Those familiar with “Absentia” (review here) and “Oculus” (review here) understand that director Mike Flanagan prefers suspense that smolders. Adrenaline punctuates beats instead of allowing action to overpower story. This “slow burn” style can lead impatient viewers to be frustrated by sleepier scenes, even though everything Flanagan puts onscreen is deliberate for the tone to succeed, including the lulls.
“Hush” is a Stephen King-style story about looking out your window and suddenly seeing someone staring back at you. A concept of fear-dominant anxiety coupled with Maddie’s deafness inherently makes it so that empty jolts are not the sole source of fright. Since sudden boos have little effect on Maddie, the emphasis on blocking and audio design challenges “Hush” to keep thrills elevated above traditional tropes.
Leading the way is Kate Siegel as Maddie, with the entire film virtually doubling as a demo reel for what Siegel brings by her presence. Since Maddie is mute, Siegel is tasked to play her part entirely through facial expressions and body language. Working in tandem with Flanagan’s direction, what impresses most about Siegel’s performance is how it is finely tuned to avoid devolving into overacted pantomime. The role requires physicality to create the character, but Siegel completes Maddie as a relatable person through restrained emotion and nuance.
As her nightmarish nemesis, John Gallagher Jr. plays the masked man as a Ted Bundy type, boozy from homicidal psychosis with an open mouth and sunken eyes. Protagonist and antagonist are so evenly matched in commitment to toppling one another that their conflict isn’t so much cat-and-mouse as it is cat-and-cat. It doesn’t take long for Maddie to prove herself as a capable heroine, though that fact does not detract from the ongoing dread or constant threat to her life.
With a runtime just under 80 minutes, “Hush” isn’t big on bells and whistles complexities in its plotting or production. It doesn’t need to be. Once you move past a deaf mute living alone in the woods being a suspiciously convenient conceit for a “helpless against an attacker” scenario, the movie unleashes intensity both loud and quiet with exhilarating efficiency as a smart, stripped-down thriller.
Review Score: 75