I have a soft spot for home invasion thrillers. Few kinds of films get my blood pumping faster than one where the supposed safe haven is turned against it’s inhabitants. That particular subgenre has been a boon for horror fans who have been treated to gems like You’re Next, Them, The Strangers, and Inside. With the Netflix exclusive release of Mike Flanagan’s HUSH, fans can add another title to the “Must Watch” mix.
Maddie (Katie Siegel, who co-wrote the film with Flanagan)has been deaf and mute since a childhood illness. The now grown up author lives a reclusive life in Maine where her stubborn cat (the appropriately named ‘Bitch’ and her neighbor and best friend Sara provide her all the company she needs. It seems like an idyllic, peaceful life until a masked killer (10 Cloverfield Lane’s John Gallagher Jr.) murders Sara on Maddie’s front porch in cold blood. Maddie’s disability allows the killers action to go undetected, despite occurring almost under her nose. Once he realizes she cannot hear him, and has no idea he’s there, the wheels in his mind starts to turn, the crossbow equipped killer grows giddy with the idea cat and mouse game he can play with her.
Flanagan smartly integrates the everyday surroundings in a way that allows the audience to understand how Maddie’s deafness acts as a disadvantage while also providing her other resources to fend off her pursuer.
The opening moments of HUSH offer an overwhelming cacophony of banal noise. From the crack of an eggshell against a bowl to the sizzle of pork cooking in the oven, to the electronic blip from an incoming text message, all the sounds are over amplified, almost to the point of being overwhelming. Then, as the camera pans to Siegel’s Maddie for the first time, all that sound is removed. In its place is a low drone that resembles the sound a seashell makes when you place your ear close to it. Flanagan’s creative unveiling of detail sets up how much of an advantage Gallagher’s character has as he stalks Maddie in her home or on the adjacent grounds. If he can stay out of her sight, she has no way of knowing where he is and when he might spring at her.
Yet Maddie’s not without her own advantages. HUSH does a tremendous job of showing how Maddie’s writer’s brain, what the character refers to as her inner voice, works. Early in the film, she tells Sara that when she’s writing, she has a movie playing in her head that has seven potential endings. When Maddie is pinned down in her home, looking for escape options, we see how some of these movies play out and how they inform her decisions. More than that, Maddie is clever and creative. She makes some outside the box choices that at the very least buy her time and prevent her assailant from just breaking down her door and killing her off.
Adding to the suspense of HUSH is the fact that the film all takes place in one location, and the last hour unfolds in close to real time. Maddie only has a handful of places she can hide, and all of them offer disadvantages. Gallagher gives a jolting performance that gets under your skin. From subtle touches like the notches on his crossbow offering up his proficiency at killing, to the way he plays with Maddie’s psych by using her best friend’s corpse as prop, the film offers up a memorable horror villain. My only quibble is Flanagan had the character discard his mask, pictured above, far too soon.It has such a cool, blank look to it that’s far scarier than the actor’s real face.
Hush offers fans a lean, chilling horror movie. Flanagan continues his streak as someone who fans should celebrate the release of each new film (this includes the upcoming Before I Wake, currently held up by Relativity Studios bankruptcy problems). The additional element of Maddie’s deafness allows the film to work new wrinkles into the home invasion trope without growing tired or overstuffed. It succeeded in doing what any good home invasion movie does to me: it had me getting up off the couch to lock the doors and check the windows immediately after the credits started to roll.