"Hush" makes it look so easy. A masterclass in suspense and "what-would-you-do?" terror, the film takes a straightforward, albeit exceedingly shrewd, premise, and wrings it for all it's worth. In whittling down the narrative to its taut essentials, writer-director Mike Flanagan (2014's "Oculus
") has crafted a filmmaker's calling card guided by the pure elements of cinema. His thrilling mise en scèneall achieved, it should be noted, with minimal dialogue and a mute lead protagonist portrayed in a breakthrough performance from co-writer Kate Siegeldares not miss a beat as the already sky-high stakes raise ever more.
An author who lost her hearing and speech at age 13 following a bout of bacterial meningitis, Madison "Maddie" Young (Kate Siegel) lives a quiet life alone in the country. While struggling to work out the ending to her latest novel, she is accosted by a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.) outside her door. With her cell phone taken and her WiFi cut, no outlets to call for help remain. Terrifyingly separated from the crossbow-wielding invader by no more than the panes of glass surrounding her, Maddie has only herself to rely upon as a fight for survival begins.
The unimaginable horrors of home invasion are compelling in film precisely because they are so readily imaginable. A dangerous interloper intruding upon our sacred personal domain is very much possible, a betrayal of our privacy and safety. From 2007's "Them
" to 2008's "Martyrs
" and "The Strangers
" to 2011's "Kidnapped
" to 2013's "The Purge
" and "You're Next
," there has been no deficiency in these kinds of stories in recent years. Add the stirring, stunning, harrowingly entertaining "Hush" to the collection, and then promote it to near the top of the pack. At 81 minutes, "Hush" efficiently sets up Maggie, her way of life, and her warm friendship with neighbor Sarah (an instantly memorable, ingratiating Samantha Sloyan) in the span of about ten minutes, then plunges her and the audience into an ordeal that keeps the viewer glued to the screen and guessing how its figurative chess pieces will work out. The nightmare begins the second Sarah begins beating on Maddie's sliding door, desperate to be saved from a psychopath on the hunt, her screams going unheard. It is a tough, shocking, genuinely horrifying moment, one that pierces the atmosphere of all that follows.
While "Hush" is a commercial work driven by its intense concept, it also works as an intimate, razor-sharp character study of female empowerment. Following Maddie as she processes her troubling situation and uses her brain and her innate creativity to try to outsmart the man lying in wait outside her house is a key part of the unnerving fun. Instantly joining the echelon of all-time great horror heroines, Kate Siegel delivers an emotionally available, wholly physical turn impressive for all that is said without literally being spoken. A gentle but not meek soul whose fight-or-flight instincts kick in, Maddie feels like a real, lived-in person. That her handicap keeps her from hearing if anyone is approaching from behind only amplifies the apprehension. With someone so engaging front and center, it is impossible not to want to follow and rally behind her. As the killer who isn't about to give up his latest target, John Gallagher Jr. (2016's "10 Cloverfield Lane
") is thoroughly chilling in his heinous single-minded pursuit and complete lack of remorse. Without learning much about him, he remains mysterious but so authentic as to avoid being a one-note villain.
Beautiful in its narrative simplicity, observant in its human complexity, and vital in its stylistic precision, "Hush" is the kind of nerve-shredding thriller which lays waste to its viewers' fingernails while leaving said audience literally perched on the edge of their seats. There are no needless subplots on hand to muddy the waters or lugubrious tangents to slow the pacing. Director Mike Flanagan is laser-focused on what he has set out to do, and achieve, and he does it magnificently. Cinematographer James Kniest's (2014's "Annabelle
") lensing of Maddie's cozy rustic-modern home and the remote wooded exteriors is expertly immersive, while the picture's sound design is crucial in deeming what can and cannot be heard. At the picture's center is Maddie, pushing herself beyond the brink of what she believes she is capable with just one goal on her mind: living another day. So tense and involving as to make everyone watching a flinching, wincing, cheering participant, "Hush" ought to join the best works of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and Brian De Palma as a future teaching tool in genre film courses. This
is how it's done.