I’ve been mightily impressed with writer-director Mike Flanagan’s horror output thus far. He made the sadly underseen gem Absentia a few years back, which tinged creeping horror with tragic sadness, while he flung us into a world of unsettling mirror-based horror with 2014’s hugely impressive Oculus.
His hot streak continues as a genre filmmaker with this devilishly effective little home invasion horror thriller, which takes a formula we know all too well – in everything from Straw Dogs to The Strangers – and puts a neat spin on it.
The film centres on Maddie (Kate Siegel), a young deaf woman who has purposefully retreated to a life of solitude in her house in the woods in an attempt to get away from the busy city and to concentrate on finishing her latest novel. Unfortunately for her someone is well aware of her being there with no one else around. One night she suddenly finds herself at the mercy of a psychotic masked killer who makes a sadistic game out of attacking her.
It’s a film that wastes no time at all; coming in at a mere 81 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat on it as Flanagan uses every weapon in his arsenal – the killer disappearing and reappearing at scarily random moments, use of framing and things emerging from shadows, makeshift weapons used on both sides of the victim-killer fence – to make sure you’re thoroughly on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and clawing at the arm rests in anticipation and fear of what’s coming next.
Somewhat gimmicky though the central premise of the main character being deaf may be, it’s nevertheless both an effective way to draw even more tension out of this kind of situation than usual and a potent twist on the representation of horror victims and attempt at survival we’ve come to know.
Although it doesn’t go so far as to have everything be completely silent whenever we see things from her perspective, we are nonetheless given the sense of what it must be like for this poor woman who has only her sight to help keep her from almost certain death. For example, of its brisk runtime, at least an hour of it is dialogue-free. Sound a bit dull? It’s anything but.
The film brilliantly plays around with our perception of the victim that her lack of hearing may automatically suggest her to be. Siegel – who also co-wrote the screenplay with Flanagan – does a great job of portraying both the vulnerability and the strength of a woman caught up in a terrifying situation. And the fact that she’s not actually deaf in real life makes her performance all the more impressive.
The nameless attacker is played by John Gallagher Jr. – don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler as he de-masks himself pretty much straight away – and his performance couldn’t be anymore different from how we’ve seen him in the likes of TV’s The Newsroom, Short Term 12 and the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. He’s utterly menacing and believably psychotic throughout, making sure we never know what he’s going to do and if he just might have one more trick up his sleeve even when Maddie seems to get one over on him.
The film went straight to Netflix but don’t let the stigma that often comes with non-theatrically released movies put you off as, like Blumhouse’s other recent Netflix-aimed horror Creep, this is more than just the lacklustre horror fare that often appears under the “If you liked this, you might like…” label when using the streaming service.
Flanagan has created an unnerving, taut, genuinely nail-biting home invasion horror that pierces a knife through the skin and the straight to the heart of what made the “someone’s trying to get in the house” tropes so scary in the first place. It’s a film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible and continues to mark Flanagan out as a talent to watch.
So if you ever get dejected with the so-called awful state of modern horror filmmaking, all you need to do is look at Hush and you’ll be reminded that effective horror is still alive and well.
You can watch Hush on Netflix right now.