Mike Flanagan is a man who needs less of an introduction with each horror film he makes, as dictated by the positive buzz surrounding Absentia and Oculus. Audiences latch on to his tight direction and simplistically sinister visuals, to the point where any conversation about up-and-coming genre filmmakers is usually started with his name. He quickly found himself courted by Jason Blum and Trevor Macy, which led to a few yet-to-be-released features, and the chance to right Ouija‘s wrongs through a much more adept sequel. Flanagan’s a hot commodity, and his latest film, Hush proves why – to a degree.
Admittedly, I’m positively lukewarm on both Absentia and Oculus, and Hush evoked an almost mirrored reaction. Flanagan is a talented filmmaker, as he’s able to market easily-digestible stories (some more than others) with an engaging plethora of taught, tense shot selection. He’s a dream director for mainstream horror, and does well with pushing forward ideas that others might struggle to find defining characteristics in. Yet, because there’s a very streamlined essence to his films, they can feel a bit mundane and generic, which proves true again once a struggle for survival is elongated farther than necessary…even considering its 82 minute running time.
Kate Siegel stars as Maddie, a deaf writer who’s currently adjusting to a calmer life amidst trees, nature and isolation. She’s got a neighbor who occasionally pops in (Samantha Sloyan), and a loving sister who Skypes her (Emma Graves), but besides that, her move out of citylife was supposed to promote a more productive environment. Frustrated writer moves to a more secluded house in the woods – sound like a cliche? It is, until a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.) appears on her porch, waving a knife. Will Maddie live on to finish her novel, or will this be the final chapter to her personal story?
Flanagan’s strongest scenes center around Maddie’s inability to hear, as he turns silence into a storytelling device. It’s not often, but events are sometimes shown a second time through Maddie’s reality, like her inability to hear that signature sizzle as a hunk of meat cooks through. Special products made for the deaf, such as a strobe-light fire alarm, are woven into crucial plot points, thus turning a handicap into an advantage. As Fede Alvarez was able to do in his own SXSW title focusing on a deaf character (Don’t Breathe), Flanagan’s most proficient work comes when immersing the audience in Maddie’s silent existence – a struggle that’s empowered through Siegel’s performance.
There’s nothing more to Hush than Kate Siegel battling against John Gallagher Jr., which puts tremendous pressure on their antagonistic chemistry. Siegel has to express both fear and strength, while Gallagher must convey a certain level of debased humanity capable of painting him as a murderous sociopath. Simple, right? Well, actually, it is! There’s no catch to my previous statement, because both actors do exactly what’s needed, and embrace a very comfortable take on home invasion horrors. Siegel is a special kind of victim, one who doesn’t let obvious impairments dictate her demise, and Gallagher is a right proper bastard. Think You’re Next (the masks, crossbow) for the hearing impaired.
Yet, despite strong performances, tension falters a bit when we’re met with a continual string of kinda-sorta endings that fuel Hush in a predictable manner. When Maddie shuts one door, her attacker opens another one – physically and figuratively. The torturous ways that Gallagher’s “The Man” first starts looming over Maddie without her knowledge, in her own home, eventually transitions to easier setups involving tussles, injuries and more of the same intruding dramatics that have backed similar genre efforts for years.
What ends up servicing Hush most is Netflix’s acquisition, even with such a minimal (almost non-existent) focus on marketing. This is the perfect watch for a quick before-bed treat, or time-killing bit of entertainment, enjoyed from the comfort of your own couch. It’s easy, popcorn-popping horror fun, guided by a director who makes the most of heightened minimalism. This year’s SXSW programming was a year for hearing-impaired thrillers, and while I enjoyed Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe a bit more, there’s certainly no reason to sleep on Hush.
Mike Flanagan has a knack for making the most out of smaller-scale stories, and Hush is no different.