A deaf woman is stalked by a psychotic killer in her secluded home.
Although predators stalking victims with disabilities is by no means a new concept, Mike Flanagan’s latest directorial feature, Hush, capitalises on blending home invasion, rape/revenge and slasher movie tropes to create an intriguing premise that’s sparingly seen on the screen.
Penned by Flanagan and co-writer/wife, Kate Siegel, Hush borrows inspirations from Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark and Siegel’s very own phobia of houses with a tad too many windows than are really necessary. Stirring these ideas together one night over dinner, the couple cooked up a concept and came up with Maddie Young (Siegel), a deaf and mute novelist living a secluded life shacked up in a remote cabin umming and ahhing over seven possible endings for her latest book.
The only people we see her actually communicate with, through sign language, are her friendly neighbour Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and her sister (on FaceTime); the latter constantly worried about Maddie having chosen to cut herself off from the rest of the world. The sister is quite right to be concerned as, whilst the siblings are busy catching up with each other, a psychotic killer just happens to be listening in and, unbeknownst to Maddie, discovers her disabilities, secretly nabs her phone and sends photos of her to her laptop, initiating a twisted game of cat and mouse.
For a film with less than 15 minutes of dialogue I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the film might end up dragging out a bit too long but the simple-yet-effective plot devices, profound performances and deft sound design are so cleverly structured that Hush will have every single one of your senses tingling right till the very end.
John Gallagher Jr. plays the film’s perversely charismatic predator to a tee. What’s that much more frightening about this guy is that, despite the mask everyone’s seen in the trailer, we actually get to see him up close and it makes for a much more frighteningly feasible premise. We’ve seen so many masked killers in horror movies so it was such a refreshing change to start off with a mask but then just to remove it from the equation and show the audience a normal, albeit sadistic, guy hiding behind it. The more grounded in reality a horror movie is, the more it tends to freak me out; and that’s precisely what happened here.
Gallagher Jr’s character is one twisted mother too! Early in the movie we’re lead to believe this guy doesn’t think twice before slicing and dicing, but as soon as he realises his latest victim’s disability could add some extra thrill value for him he can’t resist toying with her, confident that killing her straight away would be way too simple. But Siegel, being the indecisive thriller novelist she is, puts up one hell of a fight that our antagonist hadn’t bargained for and there lies the film’s greatest asset.
Whilst Siegel is certainly instantly believable as a deaf-mute, the fact she wasn’t born deaf means that she can still hear her own voice in her head. Flanagan very wisely lets the audience listen in on her internal conversations as she uses the thriller novelist in her to brainstorm her way out of the predicament. It all plays out as if we’re cheat-reading one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books in a way and, despite some deceptive toing-and-froing, it works remarkably better than one might expect.
Maddie’s internal voice plays a significant role in keeping the film moving along at a nifty pace but, like I said, there really isn’t a great deal of dialogue going on for the best part of the film and words can’t even describe how well Siegel manages to get across all her pain and emotions with the only real actor’s tool left at her disposal: her face.
What really won me over was the fact that this particular “final girl” isn’t physically able to whinge or scream when in pain – something that really isn’t the norm in slasher/home invasion movies. This goes hand in hand with her facial expressions, and the fact she doesn’t exactly escape unscathed should give you a pretty vivid idea of how much suffering she has to get across without letting a single sound out of her mouth.
The film’s score and soundscape also play just as important roles and each riff off of each other amazingly well. Although Hush relates the tale of a deaf and mute woman, Flanagan surprisingly amps up a lot of everyday sounds like the chopping of vegetables or an incoming text message beep, and whilst you’d think that would create anything but the desired effect, it actually makes the audience that much more acutely aware of Maddie’s disability. Lashings of kudos to the Newton Brothers for their score and to Joshua Adeniji and Michael B. Koff for such an unusually effective soundscape.
In short, Hush is testament to the fact that silence really is golden. Whilst the home invasion plot is nothing new per se, audiences will find themselves well and truly engulfed by the sum of all the film’s parts: two outstanding leads; spectacular sound design that succeeds in emulating Maddie’s perspective – even if forged in a way you’d expect to be counter-productive; and the savvy inclusion of the protagonist’s irresolute internal voice to get so much extra mileage out of an initially straight-forward premise. Despite the title, Hush is SCREAMING out to be seen! Don’t miss it.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)