Hush is a much-needed addition to the horror-thriller genre that doesn’t break the rules enough to make it a classic.
A much needed entry in the horror-thriller genre is Mike Flanagan’s Hush, centered around a secluded deaf-mute author, Maddie (Katie Seagal), who lives in a house in the woods. For the film to work, it needed to answer the question of how a deaf-mute protagonist could, realistically, defend themselves; for the most part, it does this. For all that it does right, Hush fails to make itself a classic — or even a great film — by not taking enough chances.
Maddie’s deafness and muteness is the result of a battle with meningitis when she was 13. The viewer learns this not through sight, but sound, the most important part of the film and its greatest strength: an oversaturation of sound — the chopping of onions and asparagus, the crushing of garlic cloves, followed by a crushing quiet; this is Maddie. There are also two racks of lamb in the oven.
Her neighbor, Sarah, texts her and comes over. She is bringing Maddie’s book back; she also wants to practice her signing. A sound like a fire truck’s siren comes from inside her house: the smoke alarm. This, along with a corkscrew she uses to pop a bottle of wine, is important later (I could make a metaphor with the lamb and smoke alarm, but I will not).
Now, it is night. Maddie is writing, but still busy with cooking. She’s having trouble with the ending to her new book — there are seven of them. She receives a text from Craig, her ex-boyfriend. She goes to the kitchen.
This is where things get interesting.
Sarah, bloodied and screaming, rams against her kitchen’s glass door. Maddie does not see her — but more importantly she cannot hear her — and an arrow shot offscreen impales her in the back. A masked figure (played by John Gallagher, Jr.), clearly a marksman (There are tally marks on the side. Victims?) but feeling perhaps a little more than sadistic, approaches the door and stabs her several times. Maddie still remains unaware.
But the figure still stalks her.
Why does he do this? As we learn later, the masked figure (Who later unmasks himself in spite of Maddie) fetishizes power — the power to instill fear and terror. He likes the intimacy of murder, the sheer brutality of it. He is needlessly malevolent and violent, and his motivations are more than a little vague. This is supposed to fill in the film’s main plot hole: How exactly does a deaf-mute person defend themselves against an armed madman?
He (we never learn his name, but is credited as “Man”) shuts her power off and steals her cell phone. She is trapped inside as he stalks her from outside, and there is no one to help. She has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and nowhere to go outside — all endings are the same. This leaves Maddie to choose an ending, one he does not expect.
For what Hush is — a well-directed, shot and well-mixed film — it is worth it, but it is not a modern-day classic. Plot points are too forced, the ending is foreshadowed clearly in the beginning (A big no-no in my book — surprise us, director!), and the film does not embrace the structure of horror films with the same intensity that a film like The Babadook (A modern-day classic) does.
I won’t needlessly spoil the surprises and twists of the film, but Hush succeeds in providing the viewer with an hour and 30 minutes of solid thrill and horror: a seemingly defenseless protagonist, a seemingly unstoppable antagonist, and the added obstacle of sound. But what is a hurdle for the film’s plot is actually strong point of the film itself — it had to be.