Blumhouse Productions are fairly hit or miss when it comes to their roster. I was a huge fan of The Visit, and Sinister 2, and I was very disappointed with Visions and The Lazarus Effect. I don’t get excited when I see the Blumhouse Logo because there’s a pretty god chance I’ll be sorry wasted my time.
HUSH opens with Maggie (Kate Siegel, Oculus) preparing what looks to be a fantastic dinner of lamb, asparagus, and a cream sauce she can’t seem to quite adjust for taste. In a very subtle sleight of hand by director, Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) dinner we’re shown, not told that she’s deaf. This movie is carefully spiced with moments like that. The story unfolds because the director doesn’t take his audience for granted and we even forgive the Chekov’s Gun moment in the next scene. We learn a lot from the opening scenes – Maggie is deaf, independent, and the gorgeous dinner is for her, not a potential mate, and we can appreciate that she enjoys treating herself. We learn about her life in a natural and organic way that doesn’t feel like front-loading and info dumping. She has a friend (Samantha Sloyan, Scandal) who lives nearby and family (Emma Graves, Pitch Perfect) who keep in touch via video chat. There’s also an ex-boyfriend she’s trying to get past, but all of that is background. She seems happy, obsessing over 7 possible endings of her new book (been there), kicking around why they work or don’t work (my personal hell). We settle into her evening routine because she’s settled in. She isn’t even on the cross-bow wielding maniac’s radar until the victim he’s chasing lands on her doorstep.
HUSH makes you think about a few things. It doesn’t rely on no sound, because that’s pandering, much like a movie about a blind person wouldn’t be a black screen with lots of noise. We know she’s deaf and the deftness of the actress to sell her character completely is on her talent and ability, not the sound guy. Instead we’re forced to think about how much extraneous noise there is in horror movies making us react – creaking stairs, smashing glass, stupid cat jump scares. What selective deafness there is in this movie isn’t showy or vulgar and only enhances the experience.
Maggie does everything right to survive, and the killer (John Gallagher Jr, 10 Cloverfield Lane) matches her step for step. He’s a good hunter, clearly, and his weapon of choice is a crossbow. He’s just as silent as he is skilled, not that silence would matter to Maggie, but he knows what he’s doing, how to rouse his prey, and how to cut to kill. They’re trying to outthink each other and it’s mostly a draw. She can’t leave (crossbow) and he chooses to not enter (honor? challenge?) – that’s a fun bit. The house has a lot of glass, and he can just bust a few panes and let himself in, but he’s in it for the chase. We have two thinking characters not making boneheaded moves. It’s pretty exciting.
HUSH also feels different not just because it’s essentially two actors in a movie with 15 minutes of dialogue for the 85-minute running time; minimally cast movies (think Misery, Paranormal Activity, 1408) make room for an actual plot and script. We have a writer who thinks like a writer. Lots of horror movies about writers fall short. Writing is a great leaf on the wind kind of profession, which can allow for travel or secluded vistas as an excuse to be weird places because “research”. In horror movies “being a writer” is supposed to also signify to the audience that This Person Knows Things, but often, the only thing you see a writer in a horror moving doing is drinking or discovering an important fact about 1 seconds before they die.
And I have to keep saying it because it’s becoming a rare commodity in horror movies – HUSH well written! Wife-husband team Kate Siegel and Mike Flanagan together craft a full tale with minimal dialogue and zero stupid jump scares (the nip slip of lazy directing), desperate sex scenes, or pointless nudity (better build tension, someone get naked). The killer doesn’t have some stupid sob-worthy backstory. Eagle eyes will note a copy of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes in the background, also about a killer with no discernable motive. He’s not a dumb hick who hunts because of biological imperative or mental damage. The protagonist is viewed as helpless and a victim because she is 1 – a woman, 2 – deaf, and 3 – a woman – this is everyone’s mistake.
Expectations – ours, the camo-dressed killer’s – are about to be kicked down the road. Maggie is rational and methodical and nothing she does is out of blind panic. There is no one coming to save Writer Maggie and she is her own Final Girl Trope so it’s survive or die. We see her working through her situation, imagining consequences, solving the problem of a maniac with nothing but time and a strong desire to murder her slowly.
I have a few quibbles about some scenes that relate to air movement sensitivity and peripheral vision, but a lot of that could be my own misconceptions about how other people react in situations I’m not physically in. That’s my failing, not the movie’s.
Anyway – lots of words to say HUSH is well worth your time, and a definitive addition to the home invasion genre. It is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.