Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan & Kate Siegel
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan
2016 appears to be the year Blumhouse produces, promotes, and distributes new and experimental projects to the On Demand market. Curve, The Veil, and Visions are the three films one’s horror-filled Netflix Queue (aka My List for us silly Americans who prefer line or list) may see as the suggestions brought to you by an invasive algorithm. But as noted in an earlier post on Haddonfield, the “straight-to…” denizen of digital or the soon-to-be antiquated DVD market does not spell doom for a studio, especially for so much of the quality work in the low-budget horror space. Blumhouse has seemingly mastered this market, producing low-budget films with theatrical elements that could make a viewer think they missed the opportunity to catch the flick at their local dodecaplex (remember those?!). Whether you have seen those films – skip The Veil; Curve is fun, echoing The Hitcher with a female lead; haven’t seen Visions – you have likely seen or heard about Hush and are wondering if it is worth your time and subscription. Simply stated: Yes.
Hush is arguably one of the more exciting and creative takes on the cat and mouse/perpetrator horror film. Newcomer and co-writer Kate Seigel plays Maddie, a seasoned crime writer in the vain of Stephen King and Sue Grafton, who also happens to be deaf and mute – a consequence of meningitis. John Gallagher, Jr., best known for his charm and charisma as a reporter in HBO’s now cancelled The Newsroom, pulls off a surprising and quite believable performance as a nihilistic perpetrator out to toy and kill his victims. In the throes of isolation, perfectly signified in Maddie’s forcibly quiet environment – a house in the woods serves as a further marking of that isolation – Hush is the perfect experiment for Maddie the crime writer, who must now write the pages of her fate in real time.
Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) composes the perfect sense of dread, especially when we are, quite literally, experiencing Maddie’s absence of a very important sense. The fading of the film’s sounds - its subtle score, the agonal breaths of surrounding trees – all muted in such a stylish purpose to remind audiences that the nuance of noise is an integral element of horror. Ever run through a pile of leaves without making noise? Well, what if you don’t know the source of your noises? Now you see Maddie’s predicament.
Furthermore, the unclear intentions of Gallagher’s psychopathic character, first introduced wearing a Michael Myer’s inspired mask (save for a slight grin), only adds to the mystery of what we as audiences always hope for: a motivation. His character is also ostensibly a Freudian maniac preying on women, as was exemplified by a brutal stabbing of another female character, simulating more of a forcible rape with his phallic-shaped knife.
But the Michael Myer’s connection ends there, for Gallagher doesn’t hide behind his mask for long. So what is his purpose? Do we buy the nihilistic, Christopher Nolan-esque, Joker-inspired psychopaths that remain popular for 21st Century audiences? Maybe. But to better understand the role of this perpetrator is to see him as a Deus ex Machina sent to teach our protagonist something that her fiction cannot. And given Maddie’s inability to hear, the challenges that only a sociopath could inspire exacerbate the need for Maddie to develop out of her literal and figurative isolation.
But do not be fooled by Maddie’s “handicap.” What Hush provides is an 82-minute obstacle course that we hope Maddie can navigate. She is the only one that can write her own ending, and we get the answer that so many artists are asked: What inspires you? Perhaps inspires should be replaced with ignites.