A fleeting glance of Hush while browsing Netflix and you’d be forgiven for having a reflexive urge to keep scrolling. ‘A young woman living alone in the woods is terrorised by a masked serial killer’—sound familiar? However, while this horror film has its flaws, if you look past the tropes and bargain bin poster you’ll find a creep, occasionally inventive thriller, which is a lesson in delivering tense chills on a tight budget.
Written by director Mike Flanagan and his lead actress wife Kate Siegel, the premise has an ostensibly predictable narrative. The opening is effective in establishing the story without much exposition: Maddie’s (Kate Siegel) an isolated writer living in the woods and, in an unusual twist, she’s also deaf-mute and communicates with sign language (revealed early, through use clever use of sound effects). This unusual detail keeps the film interesting, while giving Flanagan licence to be playful about how the story develops.
Maddie’s tranquil life is shattered when a serial killer (John Gallagher Jr.) kills her closest neighbour, although she’s initially oblivious to the act thanks to her disability, and suddenly his next target as the killer cuts the power to her house, sends her photos using the dead neighbours phone, and generally engages in a twisted game of cat-and-mouse.
Kate Siegel brings a real believability to Maddie, not only functionally (the way she uses sign language and mouths certain words), but also emotionally. I couldn’t help but cringe every time she screamed but no sound is heard. She’s not your typical damsel-in-distress, or even a conventional ‘final girl’, as Maddie’s soon compelled to outsmart her enemy by thinking and behaving exactly like a predator. Hush’s effective character work is slightly undermined once Maddie’s internal monologue is heard, occurring more as a means to progress the plot, although this sop to storytelling demands just about works.
In a break from convention, the killer removes his mask to reveal his face very early on, which is initially a bit jarring. As with classic slashers like Halloween and Scream the anonymising effect of a mask is an inherently frightening aspect of many psycho-killers, but there’s actually something even creepier about humanising Gallagher Jr’s villain. He brings an unpredictable element, especially during the film’s earlier scenes, but to the film’s detriment there’s scant evolution of his character and he soon becomes a one-dimensional boogieman.
The location adds to the creepiness of the situation presented, too, and while Maddie staggers through around hiding from her tormenter there’s great use of shadows and negative space to elicit tension and foreboding. Unfortunately, Hush’s excellent opening and the enjoyable tweaks to genre rules are soon overshadowed by a general air of predictability. The playfulness the director imprints at the beginning of Hush falls away and the film ends on an inevitable note, which is a real shame.
Hush represents Netflix’s desire to expand into feature-length content. Produced by horror impresario Jason Blum, the film was purchased for distribution by the streaming giant and watching on late-night television seems the best place for it. Be mindful this is a low-budget horror and temper your expectations accordingly, but Hush is definitely worth turning down the house lights for, then clicking play on Netflix one evening. Just remember to lock all your doors and windows first.
Cast & Crewdirector: Mike Flanagan.
writers: Mike Flanagan & Kate Siegel.
starring: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Emilia Graves & Samantha Sloyan.