Monday, August 15, 2016

Silence Isn't Golden

I'd heard some scattered praise for the movie Hush, an indie thriller picked up by Netflix in their efforts to grow their "original movie" business as they have their "original TV series." I really didn't know much about the movie beyond the mask showcased in its posters and publicity stills, but that was fantastically creepy enough for me to try the film behind that aesthetic.

Hush is, quite simply, a home invasion film. Novelist Maddie Young has retreated to the woods to work on a new book, and comes under siege by a masked killer. A teenage bout of bacterial meningitis has left Maddie deaf and mute, leading the killer -- secure in feeling he has the upper hand -- to torment her as much as possible before dealing the fatal blow. But Maddie may not be as helpless as the killer imagines...

In the tradition of tight horror-thrillers, this movie is a sleek 80 minutes, and uses every moment to thoroughly mine its simple premise. Director Mike Flanagan (working from a script he co-wrote with wife and star Kate Siegel) does make the most of having a deaf protagonist. A lot of old genre cliches pop up, but feel a bit spruced up and novel in this new context. (At even the most basic level, shouting "look behind you!" at the screen feels different when shouting it at someone who can't hear.) I think the story also handles the impairment well; the killer assumes Maddie to be less capable, but the film does not. (Nor does the film feel like it's making her unrealistically superhuman in other ways to compensate.)

But absent the gimmick, this movie feels awfully similar to me to The Strangers, and not as effective. The suspenseful set pieces here feel a bit less tense than The Strangers, and the overall plot a bit more flawed. To me, the biggest problem here is that while this scenario begins plausibly enough, credibly is stretched much too far, too fast. The killer continues to toy with Maddie long past the point where it should be obvious she's no easy mark. Short as the movie is, it's hard to believe this situation would actually continue this long.

The two key actors here both give solid performances. Kate Siegel is great as Maddie, giving us many staple "horror victim" beats without the cheat of blood-curdling screams to convey her terror. John Gallagher Jr. is intriguing as the killer, partly because of his Dexter-like demeanor, and partly thanks to the sharp contrast between this film and his role in another recent thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Still, if the movie captures the imagination, it would be in inspiring would-be filmmakers to think about what movie they could make on the cheap like this in their own homes. Though there is some talent on display here, it's in service of a fairly rote film. I give Hush a C. Fans of horror films might enjoy it, but I can't see it appealing to a wider audience.

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