Exceptionally gripping in the face of its simplicity, Hush, released in 2016, navigates the bloody waters of the home invasion subgenre to tremendous results. With only five characters and a single location to speak of, the performances and sound design of Hush are both key components in the film’s goal of establishing a disquieting tone, captivating its audience while simultaneously making them dread that the story they are witnessing on-screen could realistically transpire in the most peaceful of surroundings. Certifying Hush as a concise and well-executed horror/thriller, despite the film’s continuous cat-and-mouse pursuits growing a little tiresome by its third act.
Plot Summary: When Maddie, a deaf and mute author, moves to a secluded woodland house in the hope of living a peaceful, solitary life as she writes her second novel, she soon finds her isolated home the target of a deranged, masked killer…
Co-written, directed and even edited by Mike Flanagan, this talented director has been the face of modern horror for many years now, crafting chilling and original genre pieces, such as Oculus, Before I Wake and The Haunting of Hill House. In addition to adapting much of Steven King’s iconic catalogue of horror literature with Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep. Hush, however, was one of the director’s earlier projects, with Flanagan conceiving the storyline whilst on a dinner date with his co-writer/leading actress Kate Siegel in 2014, not long before the pair married in 2016. To get a better understanding of the film, Siegel and Flanagan even role-played each scene in their house before writing them into the screenplay, enabling them to envision how the characters would react in the face of danger, a method that I feel ultimately paid off.
Although the lead role of Hush seems tailor-made for a hearing-impaired actress, Kate Siegel portrays Maddie divinely as a quick-witted heroine who keeps the audience on her side at all times. Continuously thinking on her feet, overcoming some of the obstacles associated with her disability, and using her hearing impairment to her advantage whenever possible, it’s easy to root for Maddie to triumph over her assailant. John Gallagher Jr. is also as stellar as the mysteriously motivated antagonist: a character only ever referred to as the “Masked Man.” Who, throughout the film, we learn enjoys playing mind games with his victims, receiving some kind of fetishistic pleasure from toying with those he’s about to slaughter. In many ways, the Masked Man shares similarities to the horror icon, Michael Myers, with his motivation for killing never being stated and his costume consisting primarily of an unadorned white mask, which only adds to the character’s intrigue.
Whilst a substantial portion of the cinematography by James Kniest is hand-held, removing the possibility of Hush standing as one of Mike Flanagan’s most visually impressive films. The fluidity of Hush‘s camerawork does allow the audience to follow Maddie as she wanders through her contemporary home, the camera tracking her every movement as she enters and exits various rooms on impulse. However, a major shortcoming of the film’s visuals is certainly its lighting, as due to all of the narrative taking place at night, it makes sense that Hush would be quite gloomy lighting-wise. Yet, most shots are seemingly over-lit, considering the characters are supposed to be in a dense woodland area in the dead of night.
At times peaceful, at times aggressive, the original score for Hush, composed by The Newton Brothers, greatly enhances the story at many points, as tracks like Maddie, Intruder, Against the Glass and Crossbow, are all incredibly atmospheric. And, even if the score lacks a predominant track that could be regarded as the film’s theme in years to come, Hush‘s soundtrack still more than serves its purpose, especially when taking into account the film’s reliance on sound as opposed to a non-diegetic score.
Since the protagonist of Hush is both deaf and mute, the film contains less than fifteen minutes of dialogue. Therefore, with a runtime of around eighty-two minutes, Hush harbours more than seventy minutes of screen-time without a single word spoken. This set-up provides Mike Flanagan with a perfect opportunity to play with sound in creative ways, removing the audio entirely (except for an ultrasound machine) in some scenes to put the audience into Maddie’s position and deliver a sudden jolt when appropriate. Thus, avoiding the common horror cliché of having nonsensical, ear-piercing jump-scares for no apparent reason. Through the sound design, we also learn more regarding Maddie’s character, as she hears the echoing voice of her deceased mother whispering to her. Her voice usually aids Maddie in conjuring up endings for her novels, but, in this case, her mother’s ghostly voice lays out her options on how to approach her current, precarious situation.
In summary, Hush is a sharp, violent and finely-tuned horror/thriller that goes down familiar paths yet with flair and skill, never reinventing the wheel, but proving that the genres it’s drawing from still have firm legs. From the Masked Man toying with Maddie as he steals her phone and sends pictures to her laptop to Maddie rapidly locking all of her windows and doors before the killer can enter. Hush is undoubtedly a compelling story with an excess of suspenseful moments, its superb sound design only adding to its appeal as the film regularly comes close to being a sensory-deprivation experience. Rating: high 7/10.