Whew. That’s my reaction after watching 2016’s Hush. I was holding my breath quite a bit. So, I started watching Hush a few years ago and for whatever reason, I never did finish it. Tonight, I started back from the beginning and watched it through to the end. What a dang horror film this is!
Starring Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote it with her husband, director Mike Flanagan, she plays Maddie Young, an author who lost her ability to hear and speak due to bacterial meningitis at the age of 13.
That’s the twist on the home invasion horror subgenre. It’s bad enough to think about a sociopath John Gallagher Jr., known simply as The Man here, deciding to kill you for no apparent reason other than the “fun” sporting of it. But what if you couldn’t hear him? And what if you couldn’t hear yourself to ascertain how quiet you were being to evade said sociopath?
In fact, even my favorite moment in horror films, the crap-hitting-the-fan moment, was inverted here to brilliant effect. Maggie’s friend and next door neighbor, Sarah (played by Samantha Sloyan) comes over to talk about Maggie’s new book and show off her nascent sign language skills. Sarah leaves and Maggie begins working on her book and cleaning up the kitchen. As she’s cleaning, right there by the backdoor, The Man is stabbing Sarah dozens of times. Sarah banged on the glass. But Maddie never heard.
The Man, perplexed by this, also bangs on the glass until he realizes what’s going on. He decides to stalk her, first by stealing her phone and sending her voyeur photos of herself to her to let her know he’s there.
Maddie’s arc is great, though. In that situation, I think because of a combination of denial of the severity of the situation (and to be fair, at this point, she doesn’t know about Sarah’s grisly death) and fear, the protagonist tries to rationalize with the killer. Maddie writes in lipstick on the backdoor: “won’t tell, didn’t see face, boyfriend coming.” That only emboldens The Man, who reveals his face and tells Maddie through her reading his lips, that he’s going to come in there eventually and kill her.
Let the mouse and cat game commence. Maddie at first tries to devise a few unique ways to get out of this situation. She tries going for Sarah’s phone, but The Man has it. She tries setting the alarm off on her car to distract him and make a run for it in the woods. She does get a few shots in on him, including a knife to his wrist, knocking him off the second story ladder and an arrow into his chest.
But again, he’s a sociopath who has the advantage of both being a sociopath and that he can hear. But that is also a disadvantage because it makes him overconfident. He is so certain she will die tonight. He is so certain that she is easy pickings.
And that is the brilliance of the film because Maddie, as we come to learn, is not easy pickings and is a gosh darn fighter.
We get another “hope spot,” i.e., a moment where we think Maddie will be saved, when John (played by Michael Trucco), Sarah’s boyfriend, comes looking for her. The Man tries to play it off as if he’s a cop because he’s afraid of fighting John due to his size. But John is suspicious. In a maddening moment through no fault of Maddie’s, she bangs on the glass to warn John and instead that gives The Man time to plunge a knife into John’s neck and leg.
But John, with pure animal rage, is able to choke The Man considerably. It’s still not enough. John dies.
At this point in the film, Maddie has taken an arrow into her thigh and had her left hand mangled by The Man.
In true writer fashion and such a cool moment in the film, she sits there and begins thinking of all of the ways this situation with The Man can end. She could run. He’ll kill her. She could hide. She’ll die or he’ll kill her. And that’s when she finally realizes the only option is to kill The Man. She has to fight back. When her first attempt to do so fails and The Man mangles her hand, he tells her again he’s going to come in there and kill her. Much to The Man’s surprise and in a goosebump-inducing moment, Maddie stands up on her hobbled leg and writes in her OWN BLOOD, “do it.” She stares him down defiantly.
In one of my favorite moments in a horror film ever (and the moment where she stared down The Man was amazing, too), Maddie rushes to her laptop and quickly types out a description of The Man, tells her family she loves them and ends with, “I died fighting.” Heck yeah! Maggie is awesome.
She then moves to the bathroom to protect herself. Failing to break through the backdoor, The Man breaks through the bathroom skylight and is in a bathtub directly behind Maddie. She didn’t hear a thing, of course. That is, until the cocky, underestimating Man taunts Maddie once again and this time, she feels his breath upon her neck. She stabs him in the knee.
At this point, I’m thinking Maddie might just die. The film shows darkness closing in on Maddie, as if she is going to bleed out and die and actually be easy pickings for The Man. She slumps over in the kitchen. I suspected she was playing possum and she was. As The Man gets close, she sprays his eyes with insecticide and then brilliantly uses her visual smoke alarm (a loud, pulsating smoke alarm so she can feel the vibrations in the event of a fire) to disorient him.
Still, The Man is able to get on top of her and strangle her. Her life begins flashing before her eyes. Again, I thought she might die. Instead, she’s able to stab him in the neck with a corkscrew, killing him and call the police. She’s able to survive. She won. She fought and won. Because he underestimated her.
What a brilliant film that makes superb use of its tiny $1 million budget by being largely a “quiet” film of cat and mouse, with a perfect runtime of 81 minutes. The tension is high and if you’re like me, you are BEGGING Maggie to survive the night’s ordeal. Siegel handles each character beat well: The rationalizing, the crying, the bewildered defeated feeling, the rational brain kicking in to try to think and then the dang fighter and survivor. Beautiful.
I’m not surprised by Siegel at all. She played Theodora in The Haunting of Hill House, which I reviewed and raved about, but particularly raved about Theodora’s monologue, one of the best moments in television I have ever seen. Period.
And Flanagan, who obviously directed the TV show and this, is just great at horror. He’s original. He knows where the tension is in the film. And there’s nothing cheap about it.
If you haven’t seen Hush yet, I highly recommend it. The premise can seem like a “horror gimmick,” but it’s a genuinely great horror film that belies any gimmicks or tropes. As of my feeling right now, it’s certainly one of the best horror films of the 21st century and perhaps of all time.