“I can come in anytime I want. And I can get you, anytime I want. But I’m not going to. Not until it’s time. When you wish you’re dead… that’s when I’ll come inside,” unidentified man said.
If you are a die-hard horror movie fangirl (or guy), it would be no surprise that you sat in a movie theater to see The Boy, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Shallows, The Purge: Election Year, The Conjuring 2, Blair Witch, Lights Out, or Don’t Breathe sometime this year. However, not all films that premiere in theaters turn out perfect, and not all limited releases are forgettable and a waste of time.
One example of an impressive under-the-radar movie is psychological horror film “Hush” directed by American film director, film producer, screenwriter, and Editor Mike Flanagan, who is known for his work in “Oculus”, “Hush” will keep any horror fan shaking in suspense with intense sounds, claustrophobic settings, and its ability to make movie-goers actually care about the lead character.
The movie stars Kate Siegel who plays Madison “Maddie” Young, a young author who lives self-isolated in a cottage in the middle of the woods. She may be the perfect victim due to her isolation, but she is not insignificant (some main characters can be outshined by their antagonistic counterparts). But Maddie is different, she is deaf, she is mute.
Home invasions as a genre are not new. Being conveniently isolated from civilization is nothing new either. Having a deaf and mute main character in a home invasion film is new. The overarching premise is overused, but the circumstance is original because it focuses on the lead’s perceptional disadvantage when faced with a life or death situation.
Instead of just dropping this character in the middle of the woods and having a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.) walking in the woods see her house the film leaves out those boring trappings, allowing the viewer to create their own pre-scenario. Flanagan used a combination of simple exposition and great attention to sound to keep reminding the audience that our main character is deaf and mute. When Blumhouse Productions and Intrepid Pictures pop up in the title sequence you immediately notice that there is no sound. The infamous door slam from Blumhouse Productions that makes anyone flinch in their seats is muted. Flanagan shoves in your face the fact that there is a perceptional barrier between the deaf world and the hearing world.
The intense sounds also work to make the whole situation and setting seem overwhelming and claustrophobic to the point that audiences will be flinching at every creak and gasping at every knock. The sizzling of Madison’s dinner on the stove and the beeping messages from her Apple computer reminds you that this woman cannot hear anyone coming, that she has to rely on sight to notice that someone is there. This adds to the tension, the anxiety, the feeling that this man can walk into her house, without her being aware, and kill her. Despite the fact that the man is on her turf, it is obvious that he has the advantage.
The setting also adds to the claustrophobic air. Having Madison living in a house made of too many glass windows and doors in the middle of the woods has a desired effect of vulnerability. The huge space surrounding Madison adds to the feeling that the man can kill her at any opportunity, when he feels like it. That not only makes Madison frightened, but it effectively scares the audience. The audience becomes just as paranoid as Madison; probably even more so because we can hear the man coming.
Flanagan was effective; I was choking in my seat, eyes wide and hands clenching my shirt. In the first 30 minutes, I was paranoid and I felt sympathy for Maddie.
In horror films, not all of the victims are likeable. And when they are not likeable, you want them gone in a violent scene of gory satisfaction. In “Hush”, the exposition was simple, explaining that for personal reasons, Madison has decided to isolate herself, and her family and friends are worried about her emotional well-being. I know that she is deaf and mute. I am continuously reminded of that reality in the film, and I feel sympathy for her disadvantage in this situation that has been forced on her in the middle of the night. There, in total is all the setup there was and all that was needed. For whatever reason, she needed to have time to herself, complete the ending to her book, and find something that she has obviously lost in herself before the movie started.
I also respect how Flanagan decided to leave that specific piece of information out Why did she come out here? It added to this psychological madness. In a world where everyone tells everything about themselves to strangers, I liked how this movie kept her past in the dark. It kept me guessing and it will keep you guessing. Does Madison know this killer? Does this man know who Madison is? Is it connected to her isolation?
The mask the killer wears could have been utilized much better by Flanagan. The man takes off the mask when he meets Madison face-to-face (behind a glass door anyway) and leaves it off till the very end. This movie lost some of its scare when it decided to go that route. The white mask, as you can see, is terrifying. I refuse to look at it to this very day. The mask made the man more inhumane because you could only see his emotionless eyes. The man was not human with the mask on, but when he took it off, the audience could look at him like he was just another killer.
One thing that kept popping up was Maddie’s hesitance to fight back. When people are in life or death situations, most would run away from the threat. It is when they have nothing else to lose that they find the courage to fight to the end. This movie depicted an accurate response to a fight-or-flight situation. As she waits for the man’s next move later in the film, she analyzes all of her options. If she runs, she dies. If she waits for the man to come into the house (because all he needs is a rock to break the windows), she dies by his hands. It is when she has no other options that she decides the best option is to fight. I admired that this movie showed how a person in this situation might actually think. We see action movies all the time and wish we were those awesome characters who can handle themselves well when things start going sideways, but we all know that we would duck and cover when tables start flipping and bodies start falling.
Despite some missed opportunities, “Hush” brought satisfying paranoia and fear to a well worn genre. Flanagan’s attention to even the most subtle noises forces the audience to be hypersensitive to sounds, knowing the person fighting for her life cannot. The reactions are natural; Madison does not have latent skills or superpowers, nor is she an overly whiny and unlikeable character. I can say that “Hush” is one movie in particular that convinced me that I can find enjoyment in lesser-known movies.
If you like to feel sleep-with-the-lights-on paranoid, then “Hush” is the perfect movie for you to see this Halloween.