31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #28: Hush (2016)

Posted: October 29, 2018 in Movie Review

28. Hush (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

A point that is made no less valid by repetition is the idea that the invention of the cellphone is an obstacle to modern horror. It’s really hard now to come up with valid excuses for why a character in a horror movie can’t instantly get themselves out of trouble simply by dialing 911 or otherwise contacting the local authorities. 2016’s “Hush” manages to find a loophole to get itself out of this trap, which should have then resulted in a more suspenseful than average movie. It almost gets there if not for one fatal flaw.

Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) is an author who has been deaf and mute, exactly the kinds of handicaps you don’t want to have if you’re a horror movie character, since age 13. This has the effect of rendering her unable to notice everyday things like ringtones or fire alarms without a little something extra. The night that Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) comes running up to the house bleeding, screaming and banging on her glass door, Maddie remains oblivious to the fact that her friend is being stabbed repeatedly. The murderer (John Gallagher, Jr.), who wears a plain white mask, figures out Maddie’s disability from the fact that no noise he produces can disturb her, and makes a game out of being able to sneak inside the house at will.

After getting Maddie attention by stealing her phone, taking pictures of her and then sending them to her laptop, the murderer flattens the tires on her car and cuts the power to the house, making her sense of sight almost as useless as her sense of sound. Up to this point, “Hush” has built up a terrific amount of tension and produced an intimidating villain. Then, just as things were getting good, we get to the fatal flaw: The killer removes his mask, removing the mystery and revealing himself to be an average-looking douchebag with a neck tattoo.

If you’ve ever seen 1967’s “Wait Until Dark” starring Audrey Hepburn (who, for those unaware, portrays a blind character), consider the remainder of “Hush” to be a bloodier, more drawn-out version of that film’s final act. Maddie and the killer each take their turns on the offensive in a cat-and-mouse game that gets bleaker for both with every move/countermove. There is one scene where the movie makes you think that Maddie has been killed with considerable time in the movie left to spare, but it turns out simply to be a scenario that Maddie is playing out in her head. In fact, as an author, Maddie is able to think of several ways this struggle can end, none of them leaving much chance of her survival. The struggle only ends after one has done more than the other to use Maddie’s deafness to their advantage.

“Hush” grew out of director Mike Flanagan’s desire to create a horror movie that was completely silent, before backing off after considering that the target demographic might not go for that kind of a movie. I think this was a mistake, because “Hush” as a silent movie sounds like it had the potential to be more visually interesting than what we ended up with. It would have also meant that we could have dispensed with the bland dialogue which actor John Gallagher, Jr. was saddled with. That’s on Flanagan as well, as he also co-wrote the movie with his lead actress and wife, Kate Siegel. This is the second Mike Flanagan film I’ve seen that I could classify as a nice try, the other being 2013’s “Oculus.”

The biggest flaw in “Hush” is its villain. Less dialogue still would not change the fact that the killer does not remain shrouded in mystery for long enough. I’m not saying that a horror movie villain has to wear a mask in order to be scary. What I am saying is that a mask keeps the imagination at work, and that’s a good way to keep the audience invested in the story. This is why so many horror icons do keep their true faces hidden. You also don’t have to keep the villain masked the whole time, as most reveal themselves during the climax. By doing the reveal as early as “Hush” does, you’re making the audience wonder why in the hell he used the mask in the first place, distracting from what should have been a fun way to spend less than an hour-and-a-half of one’s time.

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