Halloween came early this year, thanks to Netflix. The streaming giant exclusively released Mike Flanagan’s slasher, Hush, about a def woman trapped in her house by a random attacker.
After delivering the indie Absentia, the filmmaker exploded into the genre scene with his haunting Oculus, and currently has Before I Wake awaiting release, while he also is in post on a sequel to Ouija. While he’s targeting horror, at the moment, he’s touching various subgenres along the way.
Hush is a slasher film that’s getting rave reviews, especially by horror audiences. It’s violent and scary, but most notably is it’s quite beautiful. It’s not a coincidence that they go hand in hand.
In light of the film’s impact, we wanted to know how Flanagan creates a scare sequence. We talked with him a bit to learn the secrets behind the horrors of Hush, which begins with staging out scenes before they’re even added to the screenplay.
“[Star and co-writer] Kate [Siegel] and I would act out various scenarios at our house in Glendale, and if it felt real, we’d put it into the script,” Flanagan explains about the early process of the inner workings of a sequence.
But that’s just the beginning. Once Flanagan knows how the sequence can play out on set, he utilizes a lack of sound and specific blocking to activate the viewer’s imagination.
“I think it’s all about silence, imagination (both mine and the viewer’s), and waiting,” he tells us when asked about how to shoot a scare scene. “The moments of violence only have impact if they’re earned. A lot of times, people try to accomplish these things with loud noises and jump scares, which I think is lazy. There’s nothing special about startling someone – it’s an involuntary reflex, and it immediately diffuses tension. They scream, then they laugh, then they giggle for fifteen seconds. To me – and I’m not in the majority, I realize – that pattern is toxic to the genre.”
Flanagan goes on to explain why this style of filmmaking is toxic, which goes to the top of the Hollywood food chain.
“Audiences have grown to equate being startled with being scared, and will complain that a movie ‘isn’t scary enough’ if it doesn’t have enough jump scares… so that means that a lot of studios will insist on shoving jump scares into a movie, regardless of character or story structure, thinking it ‘makes it scarier.’ This fundamental miscommunication between the audience and the studios has resulted in a very unfortunate trend in horror, in my opinion.”
This is where Flanagan differentiates himself from other filmmakers. Here, he reveals his tricks for creating and sustaining tension, which comes from creative camerawork.
“For me it’s about creating and sustaining tension for as long as possible, and I’m not generally interested in allowing that tension to be deflated, especially by a jump scare,” Flanagan explains. “Sometimes you can’t avoid them, particularly if you want to make a movie that will be released wide, and that just makes me feel a little sad. But it is what it is…
“I think the far better approach is to work with the audience to create tension together. Give them enough ingredients to activate their imagination, and let them come along for the ride. Utilize negative space, darkness, and your camera to create opportunities for them to imagine (and thus fear) what COULD happen, as opposed to focusing entirely on what DOES. A viewer’s imagination is a powerful storyteller, and can often come up with things way more frightening than what you can explicitly show in a horror movie… try to engage that imagination, and the results can be magical.
“I’ve been surprised over the years to find that there are viewers out there who actively resent this approach, as if they’d prefer we leave their brains alone and let them have as passive an experience as possible… but hey, what can you do?”
Hush, now streaming on Netflix is a stunning and gorgeous piece of cinema that’s as thrilling and tense as they come. Kalyn reviewed the film, stating that “Silence is the most frightening tool of all,” while Trace explained that it’s “a fist-pumping female empowerment film while at the same time an incredibly suspenseful home invasion thriller.”