Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.
Rated R for Strong Violence/Terror and Some Language
Not to be confused with the 1998 thriller with Gwyneth Paltrow
"Hush" is something I never though possible: a smart horror movie. Films in this genre rely on contrivance and their characters' stupidity to move the plot along. Even classics like "Halloween" or "The Descent." The best ones ramp up the terror so we don't notice the mistakes the characters make.
Maddie (Siegel) is a reclusive writer living in an out of the way cabin. Deaf and mute due to a bout of meningitis as a teenager, she has adapted to the point where she can live comfortably as a single woman on her own. While up late working on her second novel, her neighbor appears at the door, begging to be let in. But of course Maddie can't hear her, and it's goodbye neighbor. However, Maddie soon comes face to face with the killer herself. Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse.
The film's story, which was conceived by Siegel and director Mike Flanagan while on a date (the two later married), isn't especially original. Many films, from "The Strangers" to "Splinter," have dealt with being trapped inside a small space with a killer trying to get in. However, none have done this with a character who can't speak or hear. It's a brilliant idea, since not being able to hear the killer or call for help (except through FaceTime, which requires Wi-Fi) puts her at a tremendous disadvantage. Flanagan puts us in her head by occasionally lowering the volume to the point where sound is almost non-existent. It could be argued that Flanagan doesn't enough with the idea, but perhaps he was trying to avoid turning it into a cheap gimmick. Regardless, it leads to some very tense moments.
Both Maddie and the killer are on an even playing field. She may be trapped inside her own house with him outside, he can't get in. By the same token, she can't escape because he's armed with a crossbow and a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee jealous. Still, despite being held hostage in her own home, it's still a sanctuary (for now).
The two performers are well-cast and well matched. Kate Siegel has a natural, unforced beauty and charm that makes her instantly likable. She's also smart and resourceful; when one plan fails, she's already thinking up a new one. John Gallagher Jr.'s performance isn't as flashy as Heath Ledger's Joker or Dan Stevens' "David," but he's still a formidable foe, pushing Maddie to the limit both physically and mentally. He doesn't just want to kill her. He wants her to suffer.
"Hush" is unpredictable. A lot of what happens, we don't expect, and even then, things don't always turn out the way we anticipate. Flanagan can't resist using this quality to have some fun at our expense, and while I occasionally felt slightly jerked around, overall the payoff is worth it.
It amazes me that no studio picked this up for distribution. Sure, neither of the cast members are known names, but that rarely matters in the horror genre. It's smart, it's scary and it's well worth seeking out. No fan of the genre would dare miss it.