★★★ / ★★★★
“Hush,” directed by Mike Flanagan, understands the difference between and how to balance thrills and suspense. Its minimalist approach is exactly right given that everything that the protagonist must undergo is believable and convincing.
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a writer who relocates in a secluded house near the woods with the goal of finishing her second novel. During the night she attempts to decide the ending of her book, a masked stranger (John Gallagher Jr.) shows up to play a deadly game. The intruder claims that he will only kill her once she can no longer withstand the torment and gives herself up to him. The predator underestimates his prey.
The protagonist’s handicap makes her especially vulnerable. When Maddie was thirteen, she had contracted bacterial encephalitis and the disease left her unable to hear and speak. However, she is a heroine worth rooting for because she is intelligent, resourceful, and determined. She is put in a number of situations where she must fight, not simply yell at her stranger to project false confidence or scream so that we would end up feeling sorry for her.
Siegel is well-cast especially because she has Angelina Jolie-like traits. She has the body of an athlete, at the very least someone who is in shape. And so when confrontations get physical and she must make haste to acquire an item or she must wrestle the stranger, we believe that she can actually obtain the object or extricate herself from a prickly situation. Furthermore, she is present in the eyes. We feel her character’s desire to fight and live.
Score is utilized sparingly given that silence is one of the film’s themes. We are allowed to hear the rapid footsteps as Maddie runs to lock every door and window. Because there is no score or soundtrack that serves as warning, the tapping on the glass is all the more alarming. The creaky doors pose danger. Every shadow or a blank background is a threat.
The violence is brutal, but it is used sparingly, too. When it is front and center, one cannot help but wince or flinch. Nicely done here is we are made to understand that Maddie must take risks in order to get the upper hand. Sometimes her gamble pays off. But there are times when she gets more than she bargains for. The element of violence is predictable but the execution forces us to be in the moment and craving for more.
Clearly inspired by Terence Young’s masterful “Wait Until Dark,” which has a protagonist who is blind, “Hush” is creepy, unsettling, and inspired. Flanagan constructs tension so well and so confidently, we are forced to react to what we are seeing rather than think about what we could have done if we were in Maddie’s shoes.