Hush is 90 minutes of energy, a white-knuckle thriller in every way; Oculus director Mike Flanagan has crafted a lean, brutal, and deceptively simple home invasion thriller. It’s almost a perfect companion piece to Don’t Breathe (Review Here). One has a blind villain; the other, a deaf heroine. Both will have you gasping for air after holding it in during sequence after sequence of blood-boiling anxiety.
Katie Siegel, who co-wrote the script with Flanagan, stars as Maddie Young, a deaf writer living in seclusion, trying her best to beat her current stage of writer’s block. As the film opens, we hear the amplified sounds of her cooking, including knives carving ingredients, the sizzle of meat, the clap of the cutting boards before it all slowly dies away and we enter her world. Flanagan, in a conversation with Maddie’s neighbor, establishes that her writing troubles stem from having too many outcomes and fighting with herself to choose the most appropriate scenario.
It’s not long before Maddie is greeted by another visitor, one who has less than friendly intentions. A gripping, prolonged introduction has him studying her, as he realizes she cannot hear him and contemplates the most frightening way to alert her of his presence. Wearing a mask, he snatches up her phone and takes pictures of her, which are sent to her computer. Once she is alerted of this new guest, it becomes a cat-and-mouse game as he invents new ways of playing with her as opposed to simply breaking in and killing her. To him, she must be terrified as humanly possible for the murder to be satisfying.
The man is played by John Gallagher Jr., most recently seen in 10 Cloverfield Lane. He doesn’t wear the mask for too long, and the dispatching of the mask and his words to her are far more frightening than if he had worn it the whole time. I wasn’t even aware it was Gallagher until the credits; he disappears completely into this menace, a total 180 from his tender performance in Short Term 12.
The attempts both character make never feel contrived; it’s always the next logical progression for each of them. Both are intelligent in their methods too, which constantly builds tension from scene to scene. I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to see where they would go next. Flanagan and Siegel are endlessly clever in their execution, making Hush a cut above the rest.
I was lukewarm on Oculus, but I enjoy that Flanagan seems to have found a niche in thrillers where an aspect of sense is compromised. In Oculus, the mirror manipulated the sight of its victims; in Hush, the invader uses her lack of hearing to his advantage. With the exception of a couple lines in the beginning and a couple more by the man sprinkled throughout, Hush is a near-silent film, relying on Siegel’s expressions and breathing to convey all her thoughts and emotions. It’s a brave move, and one that pays off marvelously.
I loved Hush. I loved the layered, strong performance from Siegel. I loved the inventive choreography. I loved the sound design, and the fact that Flanagan knows when and how to use complete silence. More than anything, I appreciate that the film trusts the audience to follow what’s happening. Flanagan respects the viewers, and never panders.
If I have one minor gripe with the film, it’s the fact that I kept wondering occasionally why Maddie failed to have an emergency code for situations like it. But when everything else in the film is perfect, one really shouldn’t hold it against the film.