Stars: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emma Graves | Written by Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel | Directed by Mike Flanagan
Horror movies centered on home invasions are much more likely to terrify me than ones about ghosts and zombies, and that’s mostly because, well, there’s nothing unrealistic about the idea of someone breaking into your home and terrorizing you – if you ever watch the news, you know it happens all the time. How do you make that simple premise even scarier? Giving the character-in-peril a disability is a damn fine start, whether you’re rendering her blind (Wait Until Dark) or arming her with a fear that literally makes her unable to leave her home (this year’s Intruders).
Co-written by Kate Siegel and Mike Flanagan, and directed by Flanagan, Hush tells the story of Maddie, a deaf and mute young woman who lives alone out in the woods. She’s a writer, penning her second novel, but her career is put on hold when a masked maniac – armed with a crossbow and knife – enters her home without her knowledge. So begins a brutal game of cat-and-mouse, forcing Maddie to outwit, outplay and out-survive the man who’s intent on the night ending with her dead.
The central premise of Hush is no doubt an intriguing one, and right off the bat, Flanagan plays with the sound design in a really interesting way. The film opens with a scene of Maddie cooking a meal in her kitchen, and while the sound is at first turned up to eleven so as to heighten every sizzle and pop, it’s then drowned out completely so that we only hear what Maddie hears – which, of course, is nothing at all. The auditory gimmick sometimes puts us in her shoes and other times takes us out of them, and it seems destined to make for a home invasion film that’s a frightening cut above the rest.
Unfortunately, and oddly enough, Maddie’s particular disability rarely plays an actual role in the film, to the point that it would be virtually the same movie if she was able to hear and speak. For the most part, the sound design in Hush is the same as it is in any other movie, and since we almost always hear the things that Maddie cannot, it’s oftentimes far too easy to forget that she’s even deaf. Flanagan reminds us in quick bursts of silence here and there, but he doesn’t utilize the “in-her-shoes” trick nearly enough. And even when he does, it’s curiously never in service of heightened scares or cleverness.
Rather than putting an inventive little spin on the home invasion formula, Hush is instead content to go through the motions and plod towards predictable outcomes at every turn, rendering it far more generic than it initially seems eager to be. If you’ve seen one movie about an attractive young woman fighting off a home intruder, you’ve kind of seen them all, and Hush brings far too little to the table to separate itself from the pack. It’s not the sort of film that’s trying to reinvent any wheels, but the way it spins that wheel is just far too routine and by-the-numbers for anyone well-versed in the sub-genre.
As for the character of Maddie, I realize that Flanagan and Kate Siegel had their hands tied while writing her, and the same goes for a commendable Siegel when it came to playing her, but the depth necessary to make you invested in her plight just isn’t there. We glean bits and pieces about who she is from things like aborted FaceTime conversations and a lingering close-up shot of her first novel’s biography blurb, but it’s just not enough. The same can be said for the villain, whose motives are unclear to the point of being nonexistent – and unlike The Strangers, not in a way that makes him scarier.
If there’s anything notably inventive about Hush it’s a fun final act gimmick that’s tied to an earlier reveal about Maddie’s particular writing methods, which makes for a shocking moment that’s sure to clash with whatever you were expecting to happen next. Alas, it turns out to be nothing more than a cheap trick, and an incredibly corny one to boot. That said, it at least brings something mildly different to the table, which is more than can be said about the majority of Flanagan’s latest.
I’ve seen this movie before. And I’ve seen far better versions of it.