Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mink Flanagan and Kate Siegel
You’re alone in the house and there’s a strange noise outside. But you can’t hear it.
Hush is directed by Mike Flanagan, whose breakout movie was Oculus, a supernatural psychological thriller about a family possessed by an evil mirror. Hush came quietly to Netflix without much in the way of media attention. We reported on it here. This makes it quite the unexpected gem for the horror fan who wants to be entertained for 82 minutes at home.
Hush is a tight, well paced, suspenseful thriller about a deaf writer, Maddie (Kate Siegel), who has isolated herself for the purpose of getting through her writer’s block and getting some writing done. Her wish to be uninterrupted is destroyed by the arrival of an anonymous killer in a mask. The killer, played by John Gallagher Jr., carries a variety of weapons and really loves his hobby.
Because of the premise, this movie is reminiscent of Wait until Dark, a classic horror movie with Audrey Hepburn. Audiences found this movie extremely frightening, especially when theaters turned off the emergency lights at critical moments. It was also a story of survival, where the protagonist is at once more vulnerable because of her disability and also uses it as an advantage against her pursuers. This is also true of Hush.
The difference is that being deaf will not seem as frightening to the audience, most of whom won’t have experienced either, as being blind does. Helen Keller once said, “Blindness separates us from things; deafness separates us from people.” Deafness does separate Maddie from people, and they use this to full advantage in the film. The fear arises not so much from being unable to hear, but from being unable to communicate. She uses adaptive technology and modern technology that we all use, such as texting, to keep in touch with the world. With the power cut, these adaptive technologies are useless. Her own self-imposed isolation adds to her vulnerability. We see her refusing texts from her ex-boyfriend and turning down a dinner invitation from a friend.
Deafness also makes her ‘blind’ to what is going on around her. If she cannot see because it’s dark, or she just happens to not be facing the same way, she is oblivious to what is happening mere inches away. This leads to some horrific scenes of her calmly going about her everyday tasks while something terrifying and awful is happening in the same frame.
The killer starts off implacable and unreadable due to wearing a slightly smiling mask. He shows himself to Maddie to make her more afraid, since she writes to him that she hasn’t seen his face. They don’t give a reason for his killing spree, other than that you can see that he enjoys it. He is sadistic with Maddie, telling her that he will breach the house when she is at her lowest point. He wants to see her suffer first. During their cat and mouse game, he becomes more human, frustrated and vulnerable as Maddie gains in power and self-control.
The movie is well put together, well acted and directed without a wrong note. A couple of small criticisms: I doubt that predators would ever be as persistent against a strong defense as the killer is in this movie. I know that’s a standard trope for home invasion movies and other slasher fics that raises tension. Also, since it was going to be shown on Netflix, it should have been remastered so that it was not so dark on the small screen that you couldn’t see things. Except, of course, for the times when you are not supposed to see things.
My biggest criticism is that the bacterial meningitis that is given as the reason for her hearing loss would not have also been responsible for her becoming mute. Because she was thirteen when it happened, the language centers in her brain would have been fully developed. Even without the feedback of being able to hear her own voice, she could have spoken. Damage to the Broca’s area of the brain can cause muteness, but that’s not the case here because she writes for a living. Maddie also has an inner voice which sounds like her mother. Some back story with her choosing not to speak after becoming deaf might have pointed out her self-isolation even more effectively. Alternatively, they could have chosen another reason for her being mute if her not making a sound was the most important part of the story. Even bunny rabbits can scream.
Even with those criticisms, I found it suspenseful and a gritty tale of survival. You are drawn into Maddie’s struggle and applaud her resourcefulness as she faces the unending threat alone.