An isolated house in the middle of the woods. A young woman on her own. A man with a mask and a knife.
Taken individually, none of those things are particularly fresh to the horror genre, but taken together under the firm directorial hand of Mike Flanagan, they add up, making Hush a worthwhile sit for horror fans of all stripes. Flanagan is a talented filmmaker who has yet to have his breakout moment. His movie Oculus played the Toronto Film Festival, and I liked it when I saw it. Overall, it got solid reviews. Last year, I saw an early screening of Before I Wake, which was supposed to come out months ago. It got delayed, and I can understand why. It”s not really a horror film, and figuring out how to sell the movie for what it really is might be difficult. I like it as well, though, and I thought it reinforced that Flanagan is coming at things in his own way.
Hush tells the story of Maddie (Kate Siegel), a young woman who went deaf in her early teens. She retreated into her writing as a way of communicating with the world, feeling cut off. Her house is lovely, all glass and wood, perfectly set up for Maddie”s needs. However, it also makes her a perfect target one night when she”s alone. A man (John Gallagher Jr) shows up outside her house, and they quickly find themselves locked in a tense game of cat and mouse.
That”s pretty much it. And I”m not going to hardsell you the film by pretending it”s a radical reinvention of the form. But if you enjoy thrillers, Flanagan expertly turns the screws here, and Kate Siegel makes a very appealing and capable hero. Because she”s a writer, we see early that she has trouble with endings. Her problem is that she can never decide, and she finds herself running through possibilities to an extent that is almost crippling. It”s not a spoiler to say that Maddie”s nature comes into play as she has to face her mysterious tormentor. If anything, Gallagher has the harder role to play, because there is nothing in the way of personal information offered up about his character. As with The Strangers, this is about random horror. There”s no big reveal where we learn why he”s there, and there”s no attempt to explain his pathology. He is a predator, and Maddie just happened to cross his path.
One of the things I appreciated is that Flanagan doesn”t sexualize any of the violence in the film. That may seem like splitting hairs since Gallagher”s character is a murderer, but it makes a difference in how palatable I find the film. By stripping everything down, it allows Flanagan to essentially make a silent movie. The choices he makes about sound and how to emphasize it are very clever. James Kniest does a very strong job as cinematographer, making great use of space and distance to escalate fear. It”s a film that sets up this one location, Maddie”s house, and then pays off the things we learn about the geography. One of the things that informs Flanagan”s choices as a filmmaker in general is his background as an editor. He still cuts his own films, and it shows. He shoots the way an editor would shoot, giving himself coverage of things he needs but not just throwing miles of footage at it. There”s a precision that I think makes his work stronger, and it certainly pays off here.
Hush is simple. That”s part of the pleasure of it. If you”re a fan of cat-and-mouse thrillers, then shut off the lights, turn up the sound system, and let Mike Flanagan smack you around a little. Hush only further confirms that Flanagan has a great sense of what he”s doing, and he”s going to keep having fun as he explores the genre more thoroughly.
Hush is streaming now on Netflix.