Director: Mike Flanagan
Producers: Jason Blum, Trevor Macy
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Stars: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher, Jr.
I can come in any time I want. And I can get you any time I want. But I’m not going to. Not until it’s time. When you wish you are dead—that’s when I’ll come inside.
Maddie (Kate Siegel) lives in solitude, and not by choice. Sure, she made the decision to retreat to the woods to write her second novel in peace—but, truly, isolation chose her when she was thirteen years old and lost her hearing and ability to speak to bacterial meningitis. She isn’t completely alone—her neighbor, Sarah, is a close friend and Maddie uses iMessage and Facetime extensively as means of communication—but when a masked man (John Gallagher, Jr.) materializes outside her house with a chilling message, she has only herself to rely on.
HUSH begins with the soft sounds of sizzling food, onions being chopped, the oven door opening and closing. Maddie is cooking dinner. Then, the sound cuts. Silence. Not muffled sound, not a hushed heartbeat—nothing.
It is then that viewers realize that this is where Maddie lives: in utter and complete silence. The experiences of the deaf are widely discussed and understood; thus, it may seem to some that this is a flimsy variable to differentiate HUSH from other modern slashers (like most post-eighties slashers, this one has a twist: the stalker torments not teenagers, but a grown woman, and lurks in not a suburb, but in the woods). But there is a radical difference from being able to imagine what it would be like to be deaf—after all, we all have moments of silence for context—but it is quite another to sit in the spectator’s position, seeing what Maddie sees in artful extreme close-ups (a knife, an iMessage that pops up on her Macbook, the book jacket of her first novel) and hearing absolutely nothing. There is no pop and sizzle on the stove. The telltale music of an incoming Facetime call is nonexistent. To experience a total silence in the way that the film presents it (in bits; most of the film has sound) is bewildering. The artistic visual and audial depiction the film offers is far more effective in communicating Maddie’s experience as a deaf woman than the stilted explanations she sometimes offers (in subtitled sign language).
The dialogue may occasionally fall flat—luckily, there is very little to begin with, since Maddie spends most of the film alone, evading the killer—but the script is written literarily, offering parallels between technology and accessibility, creativity and problem-solving, writing and the intellectual design of one’s own fate. Sometimes, the connections are a bit too pat, but nonetheless, they strike me as refreshingly creative. In the same way that viewers must wrap their minds around what it means to be Maddie, bereft of both sound and outside assistance, Maddie must wrap her mind around what hearing people must do in order to evade danger and make adjustments to compensate for her disability—a fascinating process to witness. For example, when Maddie exits the house to make a break for it, she has to judge her own stealth without the benefit of sound—the sliding door cannot shut audibly behind her, the leaves must not crunch beneath her feet, her breathing must be impossible to hear.
HUSH is the brainchild of horror masterminds—Jason Blum (the King Midas of horror—everything his name appears on is gold) produces and the film is directed by Mike Flanagan (OCULUS , ABSENTIA ). Kate Siegel (who co-wrote the script with Flanagan in addition to starring as Maddie) is Flanagan’s wife—adept viewers will recognize her from her minor role in OCULUS, also a Blumhouse production—and, together, they have created a film that is meticulously crafted and deeply fascinating. The multidimensional portrayal of a woman with a disability makes HUSH a triumph of social justice—and Kate Siegel’s astounding performance brings Maddie to life. This isn’t a film that overwhelms the viewer with an intricate plot or vast character development, but it’s a gripping, intense depiction of a single night of terror—a look at not only Maddie’s peril as a deaf woman, but also at her resilience as a fiercely independent, intelligent, and creative human being.
HUSH isn’t a gory film, per se, but there are definite moments of revulsion. This is a terrific example of a film that isn’t gore using limited amounts of it to elicit the maximum amount of fear and disgust. Masterfully done.
Though chilling, HUSH is only horrifying in its gory moments. This film deals more in suspense and terror than the sensation of horror itself.
As you can imagine from the killer’s spooky threat (quoted at the beginning of this review), there is a great deal of tension: When will he enter the house and “get” her? What is his motive? Why does he choose to wait? There is also the added suspense of the slasher’s Final Girl, who must sustain increasingly serious injuries while still actively defending herself and attempting to defeat her would-be killer.
In addition to posing technology as Maddie’s access to other people, HUSH poses technology as a potential rescue … and a potential threat. The killer uses her connection to technology to his advantage, often using it to terrorize her and ensure her of her worst fear: that she cannot hide.
Really excellent. If the plot doesn’t cinch it for you, then Kate Siegel’s performance should.