Movie Review: 'Hush' (2016)

Writer-director Michael Flanagan gives viewers a home invasion thriller with a twist – its heroine is deaf. It is this hook that works to inveigle the notion that Netflix's “Hush” has something a little different to say when it comes to this trendy genre and it does, just not as much as one might have hoped.

Maddie Young (Kate Siegal) is a successful author, feverishly working on her latest novel in a secluded cabin in the woods (an idea that never works out well in horror movies). Having completely lost her hearing and ability to speak due to a devastating bout of bacterial meningitis as a teenager, it makes cries for help impossible and the first realization she is in jeopardy, harder to discover.

All alone in her house, evil steps over the threshold, and a battle of wits begins. Sadistically toyed with by a masked assailant (John Gallagher) who taunts her with a crossbow and machete, the fight is on. The angle of its lead’s deafness is explored through all of the plot avenues you would expect. Unfortunately, “Hush” does not grab the sinking feeling, searing menace or blood-curdling disturbance so feverishly conjured in 2009’s landmark horror flick "The Strangers."

Clearly influenced by Bryan Bertino’s breakout work; “Hush” tries to step outside of its intimidating shadow by featuring a solo assailant, who reveals their face early on and by narrowing the story’s focus from two prospective victims down to one.

While “The Strangers” features protagonists making poor yet consistently unique choices under fear’s clouded influence, the heroine of “Hush” makes the same bad choices over and over again. When this starts to show; the movie begins to backslide, becoming entrenched in a self-relegated rut that seems desperate to drag out its runtime, without giving the story probable cause to continue.

In a lot of ways, “Hush” should register as a more dangerous thriller than "The Strangers" and yet it feels safer. We never lose the sense that against all odds Maddie will prevail, despite the script giving us no reason to merit believing this would actually be the case.

Flanagan builds a suspenseful ride throughout the first quarter before devolving into a tedious second half, where fake out twists and the unnecessary introduction of a voice-over enters the fray. Why a story built around a deaf character, must relent and let viewers hear her voice, taking the chance to step out of her deafness to further a plot that was doing just fine without its lead needing to “stop being deaf”, is frustrating.

While deaf persons certainly think and contemplate with their own internal voice, we as outsiders never get the chance to hear it and we should not be able to hear it here. The intriguing strength of this story is that is has a rarely presented deaf protagonist at its forefront and this narrative addition undercuts that choice’s impact, tremendously.

As was the case in Flanagan’s previous film “Oculus”, “Hush” loses steam, stuck in a holding pattern that’s painfully transparent objective is to run out the shot clock ticking down to its conclusion. Without its attacker shrouded in any mystery and with the cat-and-mouse intimacy of the story played out early on, there is a major degradation to the film’s overall fright factor.

There is also no lastingly eerie quality to its villain. He is a straight-up wacko, you cannot wait to see get their comeuppance but he is not all that special when it comes to the realm of his fellow silver screen psychopaths.

Actress Kate Siegal (who also co-wrote the film) gives an excellent turn as Maddie, terrifically conveying her character's frightened bewilderment at the dawning reality of her circumstances. As the film’s bad guy, John Gallagher gives a strong performance with all the smarmy, bravado you would imagine a deranged person to possess; should you have the misfortune of encountering one.

“Hush” tries hard to be loud with its choices and in a lot of ways it accomplishes this feat. Regrettably, it leaves a lot of wasted potential out on the table. Devoid of the streamlined scares exhibited in Wes Craven’s “Red Eye” and the outrageous creepiness of the underrated 2012 film “In Their Skin”; “Hush” falls shy of expectations. When its heroine inadvertently spares the life of her attacker and misses her target one too many times, it is hard to stay silent and not call “foul”. Rating: 6/10

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