After having its world premiere at the 30th Annual SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals last month, Hush comes to us courtesy of Netflix, who wisely snatched up the property shortly before its premiere. You can read Kalyn’s review from SXSW here. I actually caught the film at it’s premiere at SXSW too, but I wanted to chime in with my own thoughts on the film closer to its release date (even though they essentially mirror Kalyn’s). Hush proves once again that Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) is an outstanding director, able to take a simple premise and bring something incredibly unique to the project without making it feel gimmicky. It is a fist-pumping female empowerment film while at the same time an incredibly suspenseful home invasion thriller.
The plot is simple: Author Maddie Young (Kate Siegel, Oculus) has lived a life of isolation since losing her hearing as a teenager to bacterial meningitis. Now a deaf-mute, she spends much of her time in her secluded home writing novels. When a masked psychotic killer (John Gallagher, Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Newsroom) shows up on her doorstep one night, Maddie must push herself beyond her mental and physical limits in order to survive the night.
Flanagan and Siegel co-wrote Hush, and the idea came to the husband and wife team over dinner. They wanted to make a home invasion thriller with a twist, and in that they succeeded. Think the final scene of Wait Until Dark stretched out to feature length. While this may sound like it could easily become tedious, the film utilizes each of its 87 minutes extremely well. There are a few too many moments of Maddie escaping the house only to be chased back inside by the killer, but by the time you begin to notice their frequency the film wraps up with a hefty amount of catharsis.
Hush makes a bold decision with its killer at the end of its first act, and it turns out to be a wise one. I won’t spoil it here, but suffice it to say that Gallagher is given much more to work with than your standard masked killer. The film shies away from giving him a backstory of any sort, giving the character (credited simply as “The Man”) the necessary menace needed to instill fear.
Siegel is an absolute revelation. If she’s this good while she’s silent I can’t wait to see what awaits us when she’s given actual dialogue to work with (she’s been acting since 2007 but to my knowledge this is her most high-profile role). She makes Maddie one of the best final girls seen in recent memory and boy, is she put through the wringer too. Her lack of dialogue in the film (save for one internal monologue) does not stop Siegel from giving one Hell of an impassioned performances.
Flanagan, as expected, plays with sound design a lot in the film, albeit not as much as you might expect. The sound in the film goes out at certain points, but one almost wishes Flanagan had used this technique more. Still, there hasn’t been a thriller that has played with a lack of dialogue this much since Joss Whedon used a similar approach in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (coincidentally also called “Hush”).
The film’s only real misstep comes in the form of the arrival of Maddie’s neighbor John (Michael Trucco), in a sequence that requires such a large suspension of disbelief as to how stupid the character is that it immediately takes you out of the film. There is also a dream sequence scare that had to have been included to pad the runtime. It feels cheap when it is held up next to the rest of the film.
The film is shot competently but not necessarily creatively. Cinematographer James Kniest shoots the house and the woods surrounding it with a good sense of claustrophobia, but I also watched Hush within 24 hours of Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (my review), a similar thriller that is also set in one location and relies on a main character with a disability. That film was so beautifully shot and featured such masterful camerawork that Hush does seem a bit too simple (though the films would make an excellent double feature once Don’t Breathe is released in August). This is no fault of Hush, of course, but merely a coincidence that I thought I would mention.
The decision to release Hush on Netflix is a peculiar one. It’s not that the film will be any less effective; it will just be a different viewing experience. Watching Hush in a sold-out theater was one of the more fun theater-going experiences I’ve had in a while. The film practically demands to be viewed with an audience. That being said, watching it at home may have the benefit of highlighting the terror in the film. While incredibly suspenseful, at no point was I ever really scared during Hush. You may feel differently watching the film in the privacy of your own home.
Hush is a terrific film, and one that you will want to add to your Blu-Ray collection once it sees a release. Boasting some fantastic set pieces and performances from Siegel and Gallagher, it truly stands out among the crowd of horror films readily available on Netflix. I have no doubt that it will be added to many of those “hidden Netflix gems” posts in the near future. It’s so good, in fact, that it actually has me excited about what Flanagan will be doing with Ouija 2.
Hush is now available via Netflix streaming.