“Hush” (2016) Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel and Michael Trucco. A deaf novelist living in isolation deep in the woods is terrorized by a masked stalker. Will she fall prey to his dark plans, or has he chosen the wrong victim?
Maddie lives in a world of complete silence. When she was 13 she contracted bacterial meningitis, which caused hearing and speech loss. Years later, she’s become a successful novelist with her first book, “Midnight Mass”, and owns a beautiful and cozy home miles from civilization in a shadowy forest. When we meet her, she’s begun work on a new book when not hanging out with her friends Sarah and John or her fluffy white feline, Bitch. Early on, Sarah comes over as Maddie is preparing an elaborate rack of beef ribs from an online recipe.
Sarah, who just finished reading Midnight, is in awe of the characters Maddie created and the unguessable surprise ending. She wants to know where that kind of creativity comes from. Maddie explains that she’s afflicted with what her mother refers to as “writer brain”, which means that she traces any action to its likely future consequences, visualizing outcomes. She hears a voice, which sounds like her mother, that details how each event in her plotlines are ultimately connected.
As she’s talking to Sarah on the front porch, the scarily loud light up smoke alarm goes off as the beef burns in the oven. After shutting the alarm off, Maddie apologizes for the incredible volume at which it blasts through the house and explains that it’s so frighteningly abrasive for a good reason.
“I have to feel the vibrations. When I am sleeping, the vibrations will wake me up.”
After scraping would be dinner from the pan, Sarah eventually leaves her friend alone for a long night of work. As she goes, Maddie receives a text from the mysterious Craig, who writes “Thought of you today.” She rapidly deletes it.
Maddie gets down to the business of writing “Sweetwater”, her follow-up novel. This process involves her listening to her internal creative voice as it lays out the relationship between events in the book’s plot, and we hear it, too. It does indeed sound like an older woman.
During a block regarding which direction the novel’s ending should go, Maddie opens up FaceTime and contacts Craig, then quickly rethinks it and ends the call. He then calls her cell, which shows up as a flashing icon on her laptop. As she’s not answering but mulling things over, the film kicks into high gear.
Sarah is outside pounding on the sliding glass door in terror, screaming for help as Maddie obliviously cleans the kitchen inside. An arrow pierces Sarah’s torso and she’s grabbed by a man in black knit cap and a white mask. He swiftly stabs her about a zillion times and she slumps against him, dying. Could this be how Craig responds to being snubbed on FaceTime? Let’s hope not.
The murder, and the wet meaty noises that accompany it, goes on far longer than your average slasher put down. Instead of the usual single stab death, the killer thrusts the blade in and pulls it out over and over as Sarah bumps against the glass door. He’s looking at Maddie inside as he does this, which makes the whole thing pretty bloody uncomfortable. That’s a compliment.
The intruder firmly knocks on the glass to see if Maddie will react. She doesn’t, and he seems to put the pieces together and easily enters the house. After Maddie’s cheerful younger sister FaceTimes with our heroine and notices movement over her shoulder, the first faint feelings of unease begin to creep in. Her iPhone and cat both go missing in short order.
Maddie begins getting photos of herself from her missing phone…walking around the house looking for Bitch, sitting with her laptop, etc. Her stalker, with his crossbow, quiver of arrows and blandly smiling mask, makes his presence known pretty fast. He flattens her tires, shuts down her electricity and locks her out of internet access. Since she can’t use a traditional phone and he has her texting only iPhone, she’s cut off from aid entirely. Also, her house has about 200 windows and glass doors, making following her movements through it quite easy.
“Hush” offers a break from the silent masked murderer formula. About 30 minutes in, our homicidal chum starts chit-chatting with Maddie about his plans. Though he doesn’t say anything you don’t expect him to, like “Can I have a glass of water? All this stalking has got me thirsty, girl!”, it is kind of funny to imagine horror icons of the past doing the same thing. What if Michael Myers teased poor Laurie Strode about her crush on Ben Traymer even while trying to stab the heck out of her?
No spoilers past this point, but if you’ve ever seen one of these before, you know what follows: Maddie gets weapons, there’s crossbow action, the killer taunts and a flashback to Sarah at the beginning offers a possible method of escape. We sometimes experience Maddie’s silent perception of her surroundings, while the killer pointlessly bangs on a window to terrify her.
Thankfully for our heroine, her attacker is using a weapon that takes at least a few seconds to reload, but there are still a few hits and near misses with arrows slicing through the air near Maddie’s face.
Hush is well acted and shot, but it ultimately feels inconsequential and slight. After a promising start with the disturbing murder of Sarah, the film loses its way when the killer becomes more than just a murderous phantom. Humanizing him doesn’t have the intended effect of making the character a monster ripped from the headlines. He just seems like another in a long line of vaguely redneck psychos, and he spends far too much time circling the house, not doing much of anything truly scary. There’s something to be said for mind games, but this fella waits too long and makes a few amateurish mistakes late in the film.
He also goes after Maddie’s adorable cat, which nearly leads to his death. You tell him, Bitch!
Hush has too few characters to be successful as a slasher film with a body count, and the psychological terror isn’t quite fully developed. After the iPhone photos sequence, the film’s more effective cerebral scares are pretty much over.
Eventually, the voice that helped Maddie in her writing pipes up as she envisions her own deaths in various avenues of escape. As we see her get slaughtered in different ways in her mind’s eye, she is slowly crafting a death-proof plan to fight back. And though the fight to the death has a few moments of interest, including nifty editing and rich sound design, it’s also a bit predictable. I knew what weapon Maddie would use to eff the killer’s day up long before she reached for it.
Directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan, the fella behind the 2013 evil mirror flick “Oculus”, “Hush” is a watchable 90 minutes of horror with a lull in the middle where both heroine and killer seem to be in a holding pattern.
Nothing remarkable here.