Anyone who has known me for a significant amount of time and those who’ve shared the row during horror films know that I jump pretty easily. It’s only been a few years that I’ve really started watching horror films and have begun to enjoy the potential terror that going to one entails. Before you ask, yes, I sometimes plug my ears because I know it’s the sounds which always send a panic through my body. So, what’s a guy like me to do when the film centers around a deaf woman who simply cannot hear what’s around her? It seemed nice in theory to me, but I can assure you that Hush made me even more anxious as the lack of sound is used to terrorize both the woman, and the audience (and it’s absolutely great).
Following up one of the first psychological horror films that won me over and got me more interested in how you can play with the mind, Oculus, Mike Flanagan brings us to a remote setting in the woods, the home of Maddie. At the age of 13, Maddie contracted a meningitis infection, resulting in the loss of her ability to hear and speak. Not to let that slow her, she’s become a successful writer and has a more positive outlook on her life. Living alone deep in the woods with few neighbors, she’s very unassuming (as we all are) that things will go wrong. When a psychotic killer begins to terrorize her in her home, Maddie must do all she can to try to survive the night.
After being picked up by Netflix, I saw Hush in an Alamo Drafthouse theater with a beautiful screen and some incredible speakers. So incredible, that they were often the cause of much of my terror. The use, or lack of sound in this film keeps you alert and anxious, as you fear for the deaf Maddie and are jolted by quick bursts of sound. After removing close to 90% of the recorded audio, the crew who did the foley work for the film deserves a huge round of applause. From kitchen cutlery to the snapping of a single branch, each sound is amplified and reverberated throughout the film, creating a perfect parallel to the sounds used to create the sense of deafness for the audience.
As Maddie, Kate Siegel does an outstanding job of conveying her emotions through her eyes and her physical reactions to certain things. Using sign language to communicate, she also has the ability to read lips, which may not always be a great thing when a killer is trying to get inside your house and your mind. Siegel never once lets her “disability” affect her will to live and find a way out of her situation. As the audience, we sometime only see what she does and cannot hear what lies around her as she moves. Even more terrifying, Maddie is always unaware of the noise she is/isn’t making, creating another sense of dread for those hoping she doesn’t get herself killed.
Flanagan employs a lot of smart filming techniques and shots with this film as Maddie shuffles around the house, unaware of where said killer may be. Sending the camera around corners and focusing on quietness, he slowly draws you further to the edge of your seat as he patiently allows you to begin to psyche yourself out. Smartly, Flanagan also doesn’t follow your typical slasher conventions and creates a killer with patience and a knack for terror, as he is in no hurry to kill Maddie. The film becomes somewhat of a cat and mouse game, which works really well as Flanagan explores the interior and exterior of the home and the potential routes one could take to get around.
Hush had me absolutely terrified, up until it had me plotting out my own endings and piecing together bits of the narrative. John Galagher Jr. makes for an unsettling and upsetting killer, which makes for yet another great performance in his blossoming career. Kate Siegel brings you deeper into the film with her performance and for most of the film you feel exactly like her character does. Mike Flanagan is someone you need to keep on your radar because he’s extremely good at what he does and even though it means scaring myself more down the line, I truly cannot wait for his next projects.