What I love about the horror genre is that there’s so much room for creativity. While it is a genre that is helped a lot by visionaries and storytellers bringing creativity to it, it also helps that a lot of the tropes and cliches can STILL be fun to watch when done well. There’s so many possibilities. Many directors and writers tend to play with tropes and cliches, which is fine as I said, but that’s also what makes it so rewarding when someone brings something genuinely new to the table. It doesn’t have to be some huge idea, because the smallest difference can have the biggest effect. When I heard about this home invasion film with a deaf protagonist, I immediately grew interested. A new, simple element that I’ve never seen before brought to a story that I’ve seen a thousand times. Sounded right up my alley. So, does the film really breath some new life into the home invasion story, or is it a gimmick that runs out quick? Let’s take a look.
HUSH follows Maddie (Kate Siegel) a deaf and mute novelist who resides in a secluded home in the woods while she tries to write her second novel, despite running into numerous problems. Living out in the woods, she really only has one neighbor, and that’s Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and Sarah’s boyfriend John (Michael Trucco). Sarah does what she can to keep Maddie company as she slaves away over a keyboard in her quiet, quiet life. But one evening, this all changes as Maddie is stalked by a masked killer (John Gallagher Jr.). The killer makes it known right away that he’s there and that he can come in at any time, but he’s going to play with her first. Maddie must think her way into an escape plan, but since she can’t even hear her killer walking behind her, she plans in constant terror.
This film is written and directed by Mike Flanagan (Oculus), with star Katie Siegel credited as co-writer. Something that these two do that I like right from the beginning was how they manage to humanize these characters. The use of sign language is an interesting device that helps to invest you into the most simple of conversations, which are all directed, written and acted in very believable ways. Sometimes movies try to write conversations to seem natural and real, but they end up sounding super stagey. This film made these characters feel real and genuine right from the opening moments, which goes a long way in a horror film. This humanizing of characters not only adds extra stakes to the terror to be had later on, but adds an extra emotional weight to certain death scenes and acts of violence.
Violence is something else that director Mike Flanagan seems to excel at here. He makes you feel every knife blade puncturing flesh and muscle, every gasp for air as someone chokes on their own blood. It adds such an immense amount of terror to the violence, making me cringe every time. Plus, when you have these emotional stakes in characters it makes the violence and death that much more horrific. It makes you feel like you’re watching your own neighbors die, but the good neighbors, not the fucking douche bag next door whose dog shits on your lawn every morning. Fuck that guy.
Maddie gets hurt A LOT in this film, some ways worse than others, and the mute element adds something really interesting to it. There’s something genuinely terrifying to me when I see someone get hurt in a horrible way and they try to scream, but physically can’t. It’s a nightmarish sight to behold. A very creative way to terrify you on a very human level.
Another element that works in this film, an important element when you have a film with such a small cast, is that Maddie is a very interesting character. She’s very real, which makes her relatable, plus she’s likable so we genuinely care about her and her well being. Since she’s a mute, they have to use creative ways to show her inner thoughts at times, established early on when she tells Sarah that she has a voice in her head, it’s her moms voice. She has this because her hearing loss didn’t strike until the age of 13. In the later half of the film we see her trying time and time again to plan her escape, so we get these cool bits where we hear her inner thoughts as she tries and put together a plan. “You have to do this, no I can’t do that because of this.” using this inner-dialogue tool is a really cool way of putting us in her head and makes for some very compelling, interesting planning sequences.
For a small cast of basically unknowns, every single member delivers great performances, namely Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr., who you may have seen early this year in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Gallagher is obviously playing a much different, creepier character than he did in Cloverifeld, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite newcomers. The guy has screen presence and charisma, but knows when to pull back and when to let loose. He’s a very compelling, interesting guy to watch on screen. Kate Siegel is also perfect in the lead, nailing every single element that I mentioned in the paragraph above in very human, real ways. That’s what’s so interesting with this film, it takes a character that you’d think would be hard to relate to, but makes her very relatable nonetheless. It’s quite impressive.
Samantha Sloyan and Micahael Trucco even manage to impress in their very minor appearances. Sloyan has a lot of charm and makes you care about her and her friendship with Maddie, making the horror hit hard when things start to turn later on. Trucco only has one scene, but he was convincing in that one scene. I like when an actor only needs one scene to catch my interest, which he did.
There’s some big issues that I do have with this film. One is that since the killer gives away early on that he can come in there and kill her whenever, but he’s going to play with her, the story becomes us just hanging out while these two fuck around. It does start to lose me at points, but I do have to admit that whenever I was about to lose interest, it would do something to win me back over. That is, up until the ending. That third act has things that I really like, even love, but then there are things that really bother me. I won’t spoil anything, but I found those final moments to be extremely silly. There’s one scene in particular during the climax that had me like “Wait, HOW THE FUCK DID HE GET OVER THERE!?” Silly moments like that bothered me. Not enough to derail the film, but it does hurt it. It’s similar to Flanagan’s previous film Oculus, that I liked a lot but had a finale that had me rolling my eyes.
Does this film drop the ball in the third act? Yes. But is it enough to ruin the whole experience? Absolutely not. Despite a silly climax, this film is still a very original, entertaining, effective take on the home invasion genre. It’s a breath of fresh air to have such a likable, relatable protagonist who has a handicap that makes for a very compelling storytelling experience. The tension had me on the edge of my seat and the violence itself is extremely effective, which seems to be a staple of Director Mike Flanagan. I highly recommend checking this film out, just be prepared for a silly finale. But you should definitely still be prepared for an original, impressively terrifying horror experience.
Hush is currently available on Netflix and VOD rental services