When a streamlined one-hour 20-minute picture can fully transport its audience into a situation, even one as brutal and unusual as the heroine Maddie’s, you know the film is doing what it’s supposed to.
Hush is Mike Flanagan’s impressive follow-up to his mind-bending but ultimately unsatisfying Occulus (2013). The premise is simple enough: a young woman is subjected to the home invasion of a mask-wearing knife wielding maniac. But here’s the hook – the victim is deaf. Queue a cat-and-mouse fight-to-the-death with an abundance of tension.
Home-invasion in horror is a sub-genre that seems to have been banging its head against a brick wall for a long time. Directors have tried to innovate but to little avail. All they’ve really offered is an assembly line of the same narrative in slightly tweaked contexts.
But this hasn’t stopped audiences coming back for more. Insidious was the highest grossing horror film of 2015 and the Sinister trilogy has been incredibly successful on a commercial level. Yet the appetite of the horror fan for fresh, contributions to this sub-genre has not been truly satiated.
Hush, however, may be just thing the horror community is looking for. It gives people something much more conceptually stimulating and consistently thrilling. This is probably the most exciting addition to the Blumhouse conveyor belt of low-budget horror, a production studio responsible for the likes of Paranormal Activity and Sinister. Whilst the material is not the most original – a similar premise is seen in Wait Until Darkness (1967) – it provides the director (Mike Flanagan) and writer (Katie Siegal, who also plays the protagonist, Maddie) a plethora of interesting directions that they exploit from the outset.
The film also negotiates established horror conventions. The most striking subversion of trope is in the protagonist herself who doesn’t fit the stereotypical female victim. She’s a real person figuring out how to stay alive and outwit the villain. Her formidable desire to survive makes for a gripping viewing experience and a refreshing, modern take on the damsel in distress stock character. The film also pays tribute to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games in that the director knows exactly what the audience will be screaming at their screens and when they’ll be screaming it. It gives the film a wry self-consciousness that distinguishes it from most mainstream horror.
Hush is not the best horror you’ll ever see, nor will it be the best film you’ll see this year. But Netflix subscribers will find it a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced and ultimately intelligent film that will probably thrill more than chill.