Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence/Terror and some Language
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan & Kate Siegel
Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan & Emilia Graves
The home invasion film is among the scariest of the horror subgenres. Our homes grant us safety and peace from the outside world, which makes it all the more terrifying when we see that safety shattered in horrifying (often bloody) way. That being said, there are only so many ways that a home invasion film can play out. You only have three basic scenarios to choose from: extended game of cat-and-mouse, elongated hostage situation, or combination of the two. HUSH, directed by horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan (OCULUS, ABSENTIA), opts for the third choice. Though it repeats familiar beats and isn’t free of clichés, HUSH works because of clever stylistic choices and a smart protagonist who the viewer can comfortably root for.
Maddie is a deaf-mute living in an isolated cottage. She survives on money from her novels and is frequently stressed out by her “writer’s brain” (she’s able to imagine and analyze many possible scenarios at once). Her writer’s brain will come in handy tonight though, because a bloodthirsty killer is slashing his way through the woods. The psycho sets his sights on Maddie and quickly realizes that she’s potentially easy prey. Unable to hear or speak, Maddie has become an interesting new victim for this killer and he intends to viciously toy with her before entering the house. However, Maddie isn’t going down without a fight. A bloody game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
HUSH uses a lot of cool stylistic choices in its storytelling, which transforms the slightly familiar set-up into something fresh and fun. Since Maddie is deaf, Flanagan constantly utilizes silence and muffled sounds to increase the tension. He also gives us a couple of windows into her “writer’s brain” and delivers particularly solid scares in those moments. The film’s ever-changing sound design helps keep the viewer on edge and makes everything scarier as we are frequently put into Maddie’s silent state. However, this isn’t to say that Maddie isn’t resourceful as hell, because she’s a great horror movie heroine.
Unlike other recent horror flicks that have suffered from bland/stupid characters (cough, GREEN ROOM, cough), HUSH sports a clever protagonist. Kate Siegel’s Maddie doesn’t do anything stupid if she can help it and actually uses clever strategies against the killer. The ways in which she compensates for being deaf in seemingly unwinnable scenes are downright brilliant. Facing off against Maddie is John Gallagher Jr. as the masked killer. Though I wish his mask had remained on a tad longer, his utter delight in toying with Maddie is chilling to watch. He delivers multiple “oh shit!” moments as a steady stream of violence is unleashed onto Maddie, himself, and anybody unfortunate enough to be passing by.
That’s not to say that HUSH is perfect and wholly original though, because the script occasionally falls victim to well-trodden formula clichés. Even with an 81-minute running time, the film comes close to wearing out its welcome. Some foreshadowing is a bit too obvious as items around the house become potential weapons later on and one CGI blood effect looks terrible (is it really so hard to get a hose and some fake blood?). Flanagan’s stylistic choices, bits of brutal violence (including one cringe-worthy gore gag), and steady suspense more than make up for HUSH’s flaws though.
HUSH is basically one intense cat-and-mouse scene and happens to be very well-executed for the most part. The acting from co-writer Kate Siegel is solid and her character serves as a unique horror heroine. John Gallagher Jr. is fantastic as the psycho killer who relishes in the moments before the kill. The film is also violent, suspenseful, and has neat quirks that set it apart from other home invasion films. It’s not free of clichés, does have one cheesy special effect, and comes close to overstaying its welcome, but I walked away very satisfied with HUSH. Mike Flanagan has stated that this film was “practice” for his upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s GERALD’S GAME. Judging from HUSH, I’d say that he’ll likely do a stellar job with the seemingly unfilmable material. As a whole, HUSH is a solid home invasion flick that should satisfy horror fans!