by Ken Bakely
A mostly successful experiment in the field of home invasion movies as well as silent-but-not-silent cinema, Mike Flanagan’s Hush acknowledges the bite-sized nature of its (likely intentionally) thin plot by clocking in at only 82 minutes. This is a good decision, as it keeps the proceedings from being dragged out indefinitely, a mistake many filmmakers would make and subsequently get lost in their own oblivion to shooting the source material. Flanagan’s conscious exercise of both limited space (an isolated cabin and the immediate forest around it) and a screenplay consisting of less than 20% spoken dialogue is something to be admired, as he directs with great efficiency and economy, occasionally staggering through, yes, but building a minimalist setup through its own devices and culminating in a rousing finale.
The occupant of the aforementioned cabin is Maddie (Kate Siegel), a woman who has been deaf-mute since an illness in her childhood. She is a writer, and has just published her first novel. She enjoys the slow-paced, deliberate lifestyle of her secluded residence, and since she has had the house fitted with various accessories for her assistance (i.e. a very loud fire alarm which flashes and rattles the whole house), she is content to occasionally hang out with her friend Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and work on her second book. But one night, as you might expect, something terrible happens. A run-of-the-mill masked psychopath (John Gallagher, Jr.) has found his way into Maddie’s neck of the literal woods. After cutting his intended victim’s electricity and making his presence known, our antagonist seems to think that a woman unable to speak or hear will be an easy target. But Maddie is far from a pushover, and so late into the night, she will carefully chase (and be chased by) her intruder around the property, always trying to remain one step ahead, knowing the slightest error could have fatal consequences.
In movies like Hush, where silence is a key component of the action, the onscreen perception of the screenplay is formed by the direction and the acting. This particular script, written by director Flanagan and star Siegel (a husband-and-wife team), reportedly clocked in at under fifty pages, and as a result much room is left for a creative improvisation of sorts. As a result, what is seen onscreen feels quite dynamic. Siegel’s body-language acting is, of course, outwardly exaggerated for the sake of the camera and less discerning viewers, yet the sum of her work is enjoyable. Despite a resolute lack of background, Siegel develops Maddie into a compelling hero with an indefatigable spirit.
Even though we don’t hear much, it is untrue to say we don’t hear anything. A chilling sound mix is peppered throughout the movie, with rustling winds and footsteps, occasionally startlingly interrupted by one of a handful of louder, shriller sounds. But on that note, mistake is made in a score by the Newton Brothers. While it’s not particularly disruptive, I still wonder what the film would have felt like without that artificial addition. Additionally, Gallagher’s performance as the whack-a-mole intruder is rather uninspired, but on the other hand, the script is fairly uninterested in developing the character, even declining to give him a name. Ever-moving nonetheless, Hush remains captivating through the sheer directness taken in approaching the premise, with Flanagan pulling the strings with a smartly tempered fervor, navigating through some creative errors to distill its thrilling concepts to an accessible but thankfully uncompromised package.