VOD Review: Hush (2016).
This home invasion horror film about a deaf victim has to pad its premise but winds up delivering enough tense thrills to satisfy.
Gearing up for this weekends release of A Quiet Place, I was interested in what other recent horror films have used silence to create tension. Don’t Breathe gave us a murderer with super hearing that forces his victims to remain silent, but that’s not quite what I had in mind. In 2016, Blumhouse put out Hush, a story about a deaf/mute woman who is terrorized in her home by a psychopath who toys with her inability to hear his movements. While the film has to really stretch the premise and bend credulity in places, it does play with character and sound in creative ways to deliver a novel twist to the genre.
Maddie is an author living way out in the woods. Deaf and mute due to a childhood illness, she feels out of place in the city where her friends and family live. In her isolated cabin, she is working to follow up on her successful first novel: a murder mystery. Life begins to imitate art when a masked killer discovers her alone and decides to spend one long gory night keeping her trapped in her house without any way to reach help.
Director Mike Flanagan (Before I Wake, Oujia: Origin of Evil) establishes early on that he’s going to have fun playing with sound cues. Maddie is cooking dinner and we hear in rich detail every chop and sizzle as the meal comes together, until suddenly we are in Maddie’s POV and all of the sound fades to nothing. Several times in the film the element of sound is ratcheted up or turned way down to create tension. It’s never as viscerally on-point as in the cooking sequence where the director is able to seamlessly drop us in and out of Maddie’s perspective via sound cues, but it becomes a running motif that helps drive tension. I also enjoy that characters with other perspectives are getting to be the focus of films, like having a deaf protagonist in The Shape of Water. It makes what could have been a common story and adds a new wrinkle that is interesting.
Cat and Mouse.
A good horror movie has to have victims you can identify with and a killer you can justifiably be afraid of. The film does a solid job of acclimating you to Maddie quickly, so that your empathy readily transfers to her. Kate Siegel does a good job of bringing Maddie to life when the script isn’t pushing her character around too much. The same goes for John Gallagher Jr. who plays the masked killer with a coy malice that makes it easy to root against him. Even the small supporting cast was solid (which makes it that much more effective when they briefly enter the scene and are put in danger). I found the cast to be engaging except for when the script was jerking them around.
Catch and Release.
The film stumbles in the middle sequences because there is only so much you can do with the premise. There’s only one potential victim, so it’s mostly all build up to a big confrontation. The killer establishes early on that he won’t break in, though it would be quite easy for him. He’s savoring the kill…and bulking up the run time.
Both victim and killer have to make some pretty silly choices to keep this story from running out of runway too early. Mostly the film does it intelligently by offering up ploys and counter ploys that each uses to try to force a confrontation, while not breaking the sacred “no breaking and entering” rule they apparently abide by. The script also wisely has some direct interactions between Maddie and the killer that help to personalize the conflict. Unfortunately, there are some really annoying gimmicks beyond the no B&E rule, like Maddie apparently forgetting she has an upstairs and a more defensible bathroom for nearly the whole movie.
Hear No Evil.
Hush is a solid horror-thriller that mostly plays by the genre rules. It’s not so much subverting or re-inventing any of the base rules for this kind of film as cleverly adapting them to a novel situation: the victim can’t hear the killer. Like most staple horror movies, the contrivances of the genre are a help and hindrance in places. The film manages to use its setup to be visceral and atmospheric, but also has some blind spots where it writes itself into corners and has to cheat its way out of them. The solid acting and new twists on the usual character tropes help to elevate Hush above any number of similar home invasion flicks. I would have loved to see a practiced horror director like Flanagan fully commit to using sound deprivation extensively, but what we wind up with is tense and engaging while it lasts.