Written by: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, and Michael Trucco
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I can come in anytime I want. And I can get you, anytime I want. But I'm not going to. Not until it's time. When you wish you're dead... that's when I'll come inside."
When I discussed Blumhouse’s ubiquity in a recent review, I couldn’t have guessed I’d confront it again just a few days later. Finding a new, clever way to intro one of Blum’s productions has become as difficult as it is to do the same for zombie movies. Yet here we are with Hush, the latest from previous Blumhouse collaborator Mike Flanagan, a director whose credentials stretch back to underappreciated, lo-fi skin-crawler Absentia. While his follow-up, Oculus, was a bit of a stumble, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Hush, a film hailed as a minimalist stalk-and-slash exercise involving a girl’s encounter with a masked killer. In other words, it’s so far up my alley that I’m astounded it took me even a few weeks to finally check it out.
When I say the above one-sentence logline more less sums up the premise of Hush, I’m not exaggerating. Even the details surrounding it are familiar enough: novelist Maddie (Kate Siegel, also the film’s co-writer) has retreated to a secluded house in the woods to avoid the distracting drama in her life and finish her second novel. The wrinkle here is that Maddie lost her hearing as a teenager, meaning she’s particularly vulnerable when a mysterious, masked stalker (John Gallagher, Jr.) appears outside of her home carrying malicious intent.
To make it abundantly clear that this maniac isn’t fucking around, Flanagan stages a ruthless murder sequence to set the chilling mood. As Maddie futzes around the house in a vain attempt to finish her book, she dismisses facetime messages from an old flame and cleans up her kitchen, a routine that grows ominous since it plays out in an eerie silence. A creeping dread starts to set in before the stalker even makes his presence known, and even that moment unfolds in an unexpected way: rather than have him slink into the picture, Flanagan introduces him with a jolt when Maddie’s neighbor frantically arrives at her sliding glass door, futilely pounding away as the masked madman lurks behind her.
Maddie is oblivious, of course, and has no idea that the girl she was just talking to minutes earlier is being savagely murdered right outside of her door. It’s one of the most staggering, unsettling murder sequences in recent memory because its banality is so alarming: it’s a death that goes all but unacknowledged, as the girl’s body is cruelly cast aside the moment the killer lays eyes on Maddie. Even though his face is hidden by a white mask affixed with a slight grin, you can sense his curiosity about his new target. He coyly prowls about outside and inside of the house just to see how much he can get away with before Maddie realizes he’s there. Between the stalker’s blank, nigh-emotionless mask and mischievous behavior, Hush can’t help but inspire comparisons to Halloween, and, for about ten minutes or so, Flanagan captures “The Shape” concept better than many of Michael Myers’s sequel outings.
However, Flanagan has little interest in simply retreading John Carpenter’s classic film, so he swiftly pivots away from these expectations, almost as if he knew it would be a fool’s errand. In the first of a few turns, the killer purposely removes his mask, revealing a surprisingly clean-cut, almost anonymous-looking man who could double as an Abercrombie model. Nothing about him screams “psychotic”—and, as cliché as this sounds, that’s what’s scary about him. In any other situation, he’d be unassuming, perhaps even a bit charming; in this one, he’s a sociopath who insists on continuing to toy with Maddie, going so far as to assuring her he’ll break in and kill her—but only when it’s time.
I’ll admit to initially balking at the killer’s early reveal. Something about it is inherently deflating since the audience is just settling in to this inexplicable encounter with a mysterious intruder who almost immediately becomes less mysterious. However, as Hush unfolded, I grew to respect the decision because Flanagan pivots from expectations throughout the film. The Halloween comparison is only a launching point for a clever, suspenseful, and gory cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between Maddie and her unexpectedly chatty stalker. While there are obvious virtues in taking the silent, masked killer route, the decision here allows Gallagher to carve out an oddly disarming personality for this sick bastard.
In turn, much of the appeal of Hush rests in watching Maddie frustrate and outfox him at nearly every turn; despite the obvious disadvantages facing her, she proves to be a plucky, resourceful foil. An entire, nearly dialogue-free stretch of the film is dedicated to the two attempting to outwit each other, with both managing to extract a pound of flesh or two. Some sequences suffer a bit from being shrouded in darkness, but this is a precisely crafted bit of suspense filmmaking that manages to pack in a few vicious outbursts. Flanagan is careful to consider the pacing here, as well—just when it looks like the action will be confined between these two, he and Siegel cleverly weave in other interactions to heighten the suspense. There’s almost always a scene where someone shows up to investigate in a movie like this, but Hush’s variation is especially tense.
There’s no growing comfortable with Hush, a film that continually shifts and contorts. Flanagan never quite allows the audience to pin the film down, going so far as to echo some of the cerebral, mind-bending stuff from Oculus to keep them just off-center. It may be a far cry from the Halloween riff it initially offers, but it organically grows into its own thing. Besides, Flanagan at least does remain committed to Carpenter’s sense of mystery: even though the killer unmasks and speaks, he reveals nothing in the way of a motive or even a hint of a backstory. For whatever reason, this sociopathic survivalist armed himself with a crossbow and hunting knife and decided to stalk this area. Nothing more is required because no explanation could be more unsettling than not knowing—sometimes, evil is primal and inexplicable, and Hush is a fantastic reminder of this.
It’s also a nice rebound for Flanagan, who recaptures some of the genuine eeriness glimpsed in Absentia. Hush is his most accomplished film to date and serves as more evidence that Blumhouse’s kitchen sink model is viable. Sure, they might toss everything in to see what sticks, but it usually results in something worthwhile, particularly as it relates to the outfit’s rash of less-heralded offerings: for every Lazarus Effect or The Gallows, there’s a Town that Dreaded Sundown, Mockingbird, Creep, or Hush. Slowly but surely, these gnarly B-sides seem destined to further define the Blumhouse legacy.
In many ways, the company has co-opted the “one for them, one for me” model of blockbuster filmmaking, only they’re so prolific that there’s ultimately a little bit of something for everyone. It would be nice if they could all be a little bit more like Hush, though.
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