A deaf woman is stalked by a psychotic killer in her secluded home.
I’m not a fan of the films of Mike Flanagan.
There, I’ve said it. I’m not a fan of his films at all. I found the critically acclaimed Absentia (2011) a tedious bore, and after watching it I referred to Oculus (2013) as WTF-ulus (I really despise that film). He directed another film called Before I Wake (2016) that’s awaiting release, but I’m not holding my breath. He’s even directed the wholly unnecessary sequel to the obscenely horrid Quija (2014), called Quija 2 (of course) that’s been slotted for release this fall, so I even hate the films he’s directed that have yet to be released. I’m just not a big Mike Flanagan fan, so upon discovering that his latest film, Hush, bypassed a theatrical release completely and debuted on Netflix didn’t make me all too anxious to watch it.
But whaddaya know? I really like this one. I like it a lot!
The setup for Hush is simple as apple pie. A deaf and mute woman named Maddie (Kate Siegel) lives by herself in a very nice home in the middle of a fairly lush forest setting. Maddie is living off of the proceeds from her first published novel, which was wildly successful. Unfortunately she’s having trouble finishing up her latest novel, a serious case of writers block has settled into her psyche. But she has support from her neighbor Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and her sister Max (Emilia Graves), with whom she communicates through face time on her computer. But Maddie’s world is about to be turned upside down because a nameless, mask wearing killer (John Gallagher Jr) has decided to make Maddie his next victim.
So we have a woman with two disabilities against a psychotic killer who kills simply because he can. Maddie can’t hear the killer at all, and she can’t cry out for help because she has no voice. Not that there’s anyone to call out to since the killer has murdered Sarah before moving on to Maddie anyway. So while Maddie is unprepared for this encounter, she isn’t without her wits. That is to say that she is a lot smarter than the killer gives her credit for (oftentimes people mistake the deaf a/o dumb as being mentally challenged). So armed with little more than her wits, Maddie takes on the killer in a wicked and thrilling game of cat and mouse.
Flanagan has done a masterful job of creating a character that’s extremely easy to root for here in Hush. The script (co-written by Flanagan and Siegel) doesn’t move at a breakneck pace. It’s a cunningly paced thriller that expertly places its emotional beats at the right points in the story. There’s only 15 minutes of spoken dialogue in the entire film, so the script has to be able to keep the story fresh and exciting without much audible help from the actors. But Kate Siegel (aka Mrs. Mike Flanagan) is simply spectacular in the film. She does so much to keep the audience emotionally invested in her character with just her facial expressions that I began to wish that there wasn’t any dialogue in the film whatsoever. But she’s ably assisted by the smart script and by John Gallagher Jr, who manages to show sides of his character that you wouldn’t usually see from a psychotic murderer in your run of the mill slasher film. He’s both fierce and oddly pathetic at the same time, it’s a great performance.
Flanagan expertly turns Maddie’s inability to hear/speak into a storytelling device. One that aids her enemy, but in a sense it aids her as well since the loss of her hearing has heightened her few remaining senses. Maddie’s home is filled with visual aides to help her to remain aware of what’s going on around her that she can’t hear. For instance, she has a very special smoke alarm that factors into the climax of the film. But as much as I enjoyed Hush, I do have a few issues with it. First one being the entire Scooby Doo factor that hangs over its second half. Do any of you remember the original Scooby Doo cartoon adventures from the early 70’s? I remember there being one scene that was repeated in nearly every episode of that show, namely the one where Shaggy & Scooby would be running from whatever ghost that was chasing them. The duo would run into one door while the aggressor would run into another, and they’d continue to run into different doors for a good 60 seconds or so before they’d eventually run straight into each other. Hush features more than a few scenes in which Maddie would go into one room of the house while the killer would be walking into another, if they were running it’d be exactly like a Scooby Doo adventure. These scenes got tired really fast, especially since the house really isn’t all that big anyway. And while emphasis is put on the way the killer would be right behind Maddie without her knowledge in some of the earlier scenes (which really works), towards the finale the script just turns their battle into a typical Final Girl scenario that echoes countless other slasher films. I wish the script had stuck with its emphasis on Maddie’s disabilities and how she’d need to compensate for them to battle the killer.
But neither of these gripes took away much of the enjoyment I had watching Hush. Actually my biggest gripe with the film is that it was relegated to debut on Netflix, denied a theatrical release. One of my greatest enemies, Jason Blum of Blumhouse films helped produce this and I’m supposing it was his idea to sell it to Netflix – what a maroon. He finally has a really good film to crow over and he basically tosses it to the wolves. Yet he secures theatrical releases for gutter swill like The Gallows and Jem and the Holograms (both 2015). Hush has sleeper hit written all over it, and it’s a real shame that it wasn’t given a chance to make some money at the box office. But it’s ready and waiting for you on Netflix, and it’s definitely worth a watch. It’s one of the better films I’ve seen so far this year. And as it’s the first film that Flanagan’s directed that I’ve actually enjoyed, it’s also a sure sign that the apocalypse is nigh…
Hush – 4 out of 5 Shrouds.