US | 2016 | Directed by Mike Flanagan
Logline: A deaf and mute novelist, who has retreated to an isolated house in the woods, is terrorised by a serial killer armed with a crossbow.
First things first; the poster design and title do not provide this movie any favours. Glancing at the poster one could be confused into thinking the movie is an edgy romantic drama. Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a little, but hey, this movie deserves much, much better in both departments. But quibbles aside, the increasingly prolific filmmaker Mike Flanagan, on his third feature, delivers his most potent and tense movie yet.
This is basic nightmare fare, plain and simple, but Flanagan isn’t trying to invent the wheel, he’s not trying to be enigmatic and weird like his first movie, Absentia, he’s not trying to be clever and twisty, like his second movie, Oculus. This is a cat-and-mouse game for horrorphiles, and it delivers in spades.
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a novelist. She is also deaf and mute, following an infection and surgical complications when she was a teenager. She has moved into a secluded two-storey house in the woods to enable her some quality, solitary time, work on her latest manuscript, and perhaps also to escape a failed relationship. Her neighbour, Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), swings by to return her latest book, Midnight Mass, and compliment Maddie on her writing. She asks how the author comes up with her amazing endings. Maddie replies that she hears a voice in her head describing multiple endings, and she has to choose the best one.
Sarah leaves, night falls, and Maddie is alone. She Skypes her sister, Max (Emma Graves), but is unaware that a masked intruder has snuck inside the house and has stolen her mobile phone. The Man (John Gallagher Jr.) is a psychopathic killer, armed with a crossbow, and he proceeds to make Maddie’s life a living hell. Maddie's deafness means she is severely handicapped, but the Man wants to draw out his hunting game for as long as possible, so he's prepared to let Maddie sweat bullets for awhile.
There’ll be tears before bedtime. There will be blood.
Hush is essentially a two-hander, between Maddie and the Man, and both deliver excellent performances. Providing strong support in two small, but important roles, are Sloyan and Michael Trucco as John, a friend of Maddie’s who turns up and is confronted by the Man pretending to be a cop.
What also elevates Hush above the usual trappings of such low-budget, single-location, small cast, fare is the violence, and the special effects used to execute it. It’s by no means a gore-fest, but the violence depicted is very realistic, and it adds a dramatic tone to the movie. This movie could easily have been derailed by special effects that weren’t convincing, but the bloodletting is done to perfection in what appears to be a nicely balanced combo of practical and CGI effects.
Stephen King, a big fan of the director's work, Tweeted that he thought Hush was as good as Halloween and Wait Until Dark, and it’s obvious Flanagan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his lead actor (also his wife), and edited the movie, has a firm and very impressive hold on the suspense dynamics that make a top notch nightmare thriller. With a brisk eighty-minute running time Hush is seriously tense, and knows when to pack serious punch. This will no doubt end up as one of my year’s favourites.