To start with a bit of housekeeping, Hush joined the critically acclaimed Iranian Sundance debut Under the Shadow when it was swept up by preeminent streaming service Netflix before it was ever screened in front of an audience. Adding to their growing stockade of boutique horror films, Netflix has queued up the Mike Flanagan-directed thriller starring John Gallagher Jr. and Kate Siegel for fast turnaround release on April 8th. Meaning that those who want to get pupils on this high intensity home invasion thriller as soon as possible won’t be forced to wait long, however Hush, a film that lives and dies by its supreme sound design, should be experienced in the filmic church that is the theater.
Siegel stars as Maddie, a celebrated hot ticket author who’s forced herself into seclusion to hammer out the perfect ending for her sophomore novel. Next door live John (Michael Trucco) and Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), the latter of whom is dispatched almost immediately when a faceless killer (Gallagher Jr.) drops upon the otherwise tranquility of their remote, wooden alcove, pegging Sarah with a couple of arrows before stabbing her over and over again right in front of the oblivious Maddie, annoyingly trying to salvage the wreckage of what was to be her dinner.
Sarah howls, slamming desperately on the windowpane, bleeding out in stuck pig agony. The crux of Hush, and why Maddie is so blissfully ignorant of the bloody murder taking place right on her doorstep, is the fact that Maddie is deaf and has been since a case of meningitis permanently rendered her without hearing and paralyzed vocal cords at the age of 13. It doesn’t take long for Gallagher’s nameless killer to discover our heroine’s disability and exploit it in his sick game of cat and mouse.Hush thrives by stripping back home the invasion thriller to the bare essentials. Flanagan, in a script co-authored by star Siegel, trims the fat early on, leaving the desperate-to-survive final girl and an unscrewed killer to duke it out in a fidgety battle of wits. There’s no lingering question as to who the killer is – he’s nobody and that’s what makes him so scary – or a stockade of drunker, sluttier victims to offer up first. Their battle is mano-a-mano. Maddie must overcome her handicap while the man – who unmasks himself to discredit Maddie’s plea that she hasn’t seen his face and therefore he can still just walk away – plods around outside, assuring the lipreader inside that he plans to toy with her until she’s reached her wit’s end. Then and only then will he enter to finish her off.
Gallagher’s deranged hunter is thoroughly human, purposefully lacking a backstory or supplementary motivation aside from the 13 suggestive scratches etched into his crossbow. Says Flanagan, leaving the villain without explanation intensifies his dreadful nature. When we don’t know the particulars pertaining to what would motivate someone to hunt people for sport, we fill in the nastiest details ourselves. Evil is is unpredictable and untraceable as it often is banal. There is menace screwed into the makeup of the man’s singular motivation, bolstered by a strong performer like Gallagher that keeps the dramatic gravity in check, and watching him toy with his prey makes for compelling cinema.
For her part, Siegel’s turn represents an impressive debut. She remains a convincing and engaging cause for audiences to rally behind even when Hush gets a trifle repetitive. Suffering broad second act issues that sees the heroine scrambling in and out of windows then in and out of doors then in and out of more windows reveals that the supreme craftiness that went into carving the rules and regulations of Flanagan’s prior effort Oculus is not present here. That being said, Hush should be credited for extrapolating such simple elements into a minor onslaught of paranoia and dread.
Easily the most impresses portions of Hush are catered by its vivid sound design. In all horror movies, the impact of consummate sound design cannot be understated but Hush, with its mute, deaf central character, is able to exploit the impact of its audio to the next level. Another reason why it ought to be experienced in theater. Impressive foley work populates the diverse cacophony of noises though I wish that Flanagan had gone even further with the idea that Maddie is force to contend the fact that she’s down a crucial sense and had that become an even bigger hurdle to outsmart.
CONCLUSION: ‘Hush’ isn’t as smart or crafty as Mike Flannigan’s last film ‘Oculus’ but is nevertheless a thoroughly capable experiment in tearing a cliché down to its most basic components and then building it back up with only the finest of ingredients (including out-of-sight sound design).