Overview: A deaf writer’s isolation is punctured when a sadistic serial killer enters her home. Netflix; 2016; Rated R; 81 minutes.
Dead Silence: When compared to director Mike Flanagan’s previous film, Oculus, Hush seems to play it by the book, at least when it comes to its surface-level horror. Flanagan and co-writer Kate Siegel display a full awareness of tropes and story beats of the genre they’re working in, and instead of offering deconstruction, they lean into them. Hush is very much a traditional slasher film, with the hook being that the lead character is deaf. There is no sudden twist of mistaken identities, or revelation that Maddie’s deafness was all a ruse. Hush is exactly what it announces itself to be, but for every trope and tradition followed there exists a subtle undercurrent that exposes a wider societal examination.
At the beginning of Hush, we’re taken through the secluded settings where we find Maddie (Kate Siegel). We move briskly over the shadowed trees before settling on a comfortable looking writer’s cabin. The exterior of the locale is almost ancillary, not simply because we’ve been to numerous cabins in the woods, but because the outside world represents a total disconnect for Maddie. Her cabin is her world, and the majority of her connection to the world outside of that comes from Skype calls to her family. The only other sense of a larger world comes from Maddie’s neighbor Sarah, whose near-by home we never see. Beyond Sarah’s clear establishment as a character pre-destined to the bite the dust later in the film, she provides a greater context to Maddie’s solitude. Sarah wants a friendship and the opportunity to bond, while Maddie remains friendly but distant, alienated by her deafness partly due to her own actions and presumably the actions of others. Despite her best intentions, Sarah is a distraction, not only from Maddie’s work but as a reminder of a world she is no longer part of. When Maddie turns down Sarah’s offer to join her for take-out and a movie, she effectively cuts herself off from face-to-face interaction with the hearing the world, that is until the hearing world violently intrudes on her own and forces her to become a part of it.
Wait Until Dark: Like countless other slasher films before it, the antagonist of Hush shows up wearing a mask. The mask of the crossbow wielding killer has a subtle smirk carved into its white face which creates a menacing source of mockery. But this mask is quickly dispensed of and we’re treated to the full face of our killer (John Gallagher Jr). The unmasking happens early and with little ceremony, because there are no scars or haunting disfigurements underneath that smirking white face, only a man with a smirk of his own. There’s a cold confidence in the killer’s lack of need or desire for anonymity. He’s a hunter who acts with absolute assuredness that he will get his prey after round after round of tormenting. There’s a gleefulness to his hunt of Maddie as he stalks her through and around her house, a glee only furthered by the discovery of the extent of her deafness. He operates under the assumption that she is the weaker animal, that her deafness is a handicap for him to take advantage of. Flanagan carefully frames these moments of stalking, often keeping the killer just in the corner of our vision, and using the darkness along with the silence to create a sensory vacuum that keeps viewer’s unprepared for each subsequent move.
As one of the only characters with lines, every word the killer speaks creates a greater sense of him and provides the only backstory necessary: he’s a man created by the outside world, the world Maddie has tried so hard to avoid. His small frame is contrasted by a shaved head and noticeable tattoos, which are a failed attempt to create a tough-guy exterior. When confronted by Sarah’s boyfriend, he takes notice of this others man’s size and refers to him as a jock. You can almost see this killer’s history written on his face, his schoolyard pain turned ugly and emerging as a sadistic need to display power. If we look at this killer as a former victim, then his desire to create victims out of others becomes a thematic heartbeat, particularly when Maddie, despite her alluded former victimhood, proves to be more capable than he expected.
7 Ways to Die: Maddie’s isolation has made her capable and resourceful, and her remaining senses become a powerful tool as she fights to survive. Despite Maddie’s capabilities, Flanagan carefully constructs an environment of fear not only through the lingering moments of silence used to give the viewer a sense of Maddie’s state, but also in the moments of sound where we’re aware of how much noise Maddie is making, but she remains oblivious. But it’s not simply brute strength and a sheer will to live to that makes Maddie a final girl worth rooting for. As a writer, she’s used to considering different scenarios and possible outcomes. At the beginning of the film, we find her struggling amongst seven different possible endings for her novel. We revisit this before the film’s climax and in one of the film’s most cleverly scripted and directed sequences, we are shown multiple potential endings before moving ahead to a bloody and brutal finale. It is confidence garnered from interior living that makes Maddie a survivor, and it is inferiority built on the exterior that makes the killer such a formidable opponent. Hush provides more than a battle of sexes, of even senses, but a battle of spatial consequences.
Overall: In the midst of this traditional slasher film, Flanagan and Siegel have created a shadowy examination of the effect that private and public spaces have on those society has labeled victims. Decidedly unflashy and built on the careful balance of its performances, script, and direction, Hush is a modern slasher movie classic that’s not to be missed.
Featured Image: Netflix