One problem that frequently plagues low budget horror films is that sometimes the scariest aspect of the movie is the horrific pacing, slowly taking its time to escalate and placing all of its chips in a frenzied finale. What is often lost in movies like that is the simple fact that if you bore more for an hour I’m not going to really care about the last half hour. Thankfully, the new horror film from director Mike Flanagan, Hush, doesn’t waste the viewer’s time with a convoluted setup. This is the kind of horror film that gets right to the terror and just builds throughout. If I had my way, Hush would be shown to young filmmakers wanting to breakthrough with low-budget horror – don’t bore the audience, grab their attention and never let go.
The premise for Hush is rather simple: Maddie (Kate Siegel), a young woman who is deaf and mute, is terrorized by a masked killer (John Gallagher, Jr.) who arrives at her secluded home with the intention of committing a grisly murder. Flanagan sets everything up with great efficiency, plausibly establishing how Maddie goes about her day-to-day life in matter of minutes. She’s a writer who’s working tirelessly to complete her second novel, aided by the seclusion her home offers. Of course, she was never expecting a raving psychopath at her doorstep.
The husband and wife duo of Kate Siegel and Mike Flanagan have written such an incredibly strong female character in Maddie. Throughout, Maddie is vulnerable, but she’s never weak. It’s a key distinction that often gets muddled in lesser films – disability doesn’t equate to victimhood. I don’t know what’s going on this year, but if it’s a genre film with John Gallagher, Jr., it’s likely to feature a great badass woman.
As great as Siegel is as Maddie, she’s complimented perfectly by the menacing performance from John Gallagher, Jr. He’s this cold psychopath, smart and calculating. Staring into the windows and taunting the vulnerable Maddie, Gallagher gives chills down the spine of the viewer. This character is a violent wildcard, a figure of terror that will keep you guessing what he’ll do next. Both characters are playing a game of cat and mouse, with Maddie forced to contend with her inherent disadvantage.
The setting is as much a character as the humans, with various objects and the house itself playing an integral part of the story. None of these things are even given too much emphasis which makes their payoffs all the more surprising and effective. Even the technological aspect of modern living is handled, presenting an entirely plausible reason as to why Maddie can’t reach out to world outside for help. Failing technology plays out as an extension of Maddie’s vulnerability.
Due to the main character and limited cast, Hush doesn’t feature much in the way of dialogue, and there’s nothing bad about that. It’s so robust in its visuals and editing that everything that the film needs is on the screen. Running at just over 80 minutes, Hush doesn’t waste your time with pointless scenes of exposition, nor does it explain the origins of its psycho killer. It’s a touch I personally like because sometimes evil existing on its own without explanation is more terrifying that trying to contextualize it. Mike Flanagan once again proves that he among one of the best horror filmmakers working today, and does so much with so little that his talent is undeniable. As the co-writer and lead, Kate Siegel gives an attention-grabbing performance, one that should lead to a plethora of roles for her in the near future. Hush is among the best horror films of the year’s first half, quickly seizing your attention and never relinquishing. It’ll be a while before I stop talking about the brilliance of Hush.
It may not have the most original of premises, but Hush makes up for it as a sharp, tense horror-thriller featuring two striking lead performances and marvelous execution.