Horror director Mike Flanagan is on quite the roll. Two years ago, Flanagan helmed the sequel to the lame Ouija film, Ouija: Origin of Evil. To everyone’s surprise, his sequel was a vast improvement and a damn good horror film. Last year, Flanagan took one of Stephen King’s ‘unfilmable’ Gerald’s Game, and delivered one of 2017’s better horror films. Currently, Flanagan is riding the wave of his excellent Netflix horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. But before these milestones, Flanagan directed a smaller slasher film that was quietly released on Netflix in 2016 – Hush.
Deaf author Maddie Young lives alone in a isolated house deep in the woods. Aside from her neighbour, Sarah, and FaceTime chats with her sister, Maddie has little contact with the world. Late one evening, a panicked Sarah shows up outside Maddie’s house pursued by a masked stranger. But Madde can’t hear Sarah’s desperate pounding and she’s brutally murdered. Now realizing that Maddie is alone and deaf, the masked stranger begins to stalk and torment her.
Hush Is An Accomplishment of Lean Slasher Storytelling
Based on a screenplay by Flanagan and star Kate Siegel, Hush is a raw, lean fusion of the slasher and home invasion subgenres. It’s a gimmicky premise that could have run dry very quickly. Instead Hush feels fresh, breathing new life into not one but two tired horror subgenres. This is partly due to screenplay that is focused and inventive. Maddie’s character arc doesn’t unfold through lazy expository dialogue. Instead Hush respects its audience, allowing you to pick up on character details that Flanagan and Siegel deposit here and there.
…Hush also manages to avoid indulging in too many familiar subgenre tropes.
For the most part, Hush also manages to avoid indulging in too many familiar subgenre tropes. Certainly, there’s some foreshadowing early in Hush, but it comes across as inventive rather than hackneyed. Flanagan and Siegel’s story also wisely chooses to keep its killer, ‘The Man’, shrouded in mystery. Hush does’t burden itself with unnecessary backstory. Additionally, Flanagan pulls out a few fun filmmaking tricks to give the audience some insight into Maddie. These are clever bits that swerve the audience while also making Maddie one of the more compelling horror protagonists in recent memory.
Flanagan’s Invests His Premise With Brutal Inventiveness
Hush also gets a lot of mileage from its premise through its quick-pacing and inventive approach to the subject matter. Flanagan puts the audience in Maddie’s shoes on a few occasions. He uses silence in ways that cheaper slasher films typically use loud jolting sounds to elicit scares. There are a few scenes where we can see a looming threat while Maddie is left unaware. It’s these scenes that elicit the kind of ‘look out behind you’ screams that make watching horror movies so much fun.
It’s these scenes that elicit the kind of ‘look out behind you’ scream that make watching horror movies so much fun.
In contrast to other slasher films, Hush keeps things small, which means a light body count. Nevertheless, Flanagan’s approach to the film’s violence is stripped down. Forget cartoonish and over-the-top kills. Hush‘s violence is gritty and its killer, credited as ‘The Man’, is sadistic. Every stabbing feels as brutal as it should. A scene where ‘The Man’ uses Sarah’s lifeless arm to tap on Maddie’s window is unsettling.
Kate Siegel Is a Star-in-the-Making
Writer and start Kate Siegel (The Haunting of Hill House) delivers an impressive performance. If Hush’s premise risked veering into gimmicky territory, Siegel keeps the movie grounded from start to finish. Of course, the screenplay gets an assist by realizing Maddie as fully realized person, intelligent and self-reliant. But Siegel draws you in from the opening minutes of Hush. She deftly balances vulnerability and strength. Indeed, it’s a refreshing turn to have a horror film protagonist that is as resourceful as Maddie.
Flanagan takes a risk with his film’s killer. Throughout the first half of Hush, Flanagan scores a slasher film win with his eerily memorable masked murderer. But he takes a risk by unmasking ‘The Man’ at the movie’s halfway point. However, it proves to be a risk worth taking. Unmasked, John Gallagher Jr gives a subtlety sadistic take on the slasher villain. His performance almost borders on mundane. He delivers his dialogue in an almost ‘matter-of-fact’ tone. It makes him even more frightening than when’s a silent, masked entity.
Hush Is a Contemporary Slasher Classic
Hush proves to be an inherently watchable contemporary slasher film. Everything about this movie works. The premise itself isn’t entirely new. Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman in the similarly themed 1967 home invasion thriller, Wait Until Dark. But director Mike Flanagan demonstrates an inventive style that elevates Hush beyond a one-note gimmick. Everything is rounded out by a strong performance from Kate Siegel. If you’re looking for ‘Netflix and Chills’, Hush makes for fun horror viewing.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-