Hush is a 2016 horror movie in the home invasion sub-genre from Mike Flanagan of Oculus fame. The movie stars Kate Siegel as the protagonist trying to ward off the bad guy with more that the usual obstacles as her character is deaf and mute. This movie was released straight to Netflix, and is hot off the presses, so be careful with the spoilers with this one. Which is to say don't read our review if you're worried about spoilers. They are in there. If you're not as worried, then check out the trailer below and then our review. Then be sure to let us know in the comments or by twitter if you agree with our assessment.
Jack: Hush. Here we go. Jake’s back from his week straight of adult hypnotist shows on the singles’ cruise, so let’s get to this thing. For those not in the know, Hush derives its title from the protagonist, who after a teenaged battle with meningitis, is a deaf-mute living alone in the woods.
Jake: Which seems like an extraordinarily bad idea, by the way.... Much like all the quaaludes from last week, but you know… business. Anyway, we learn very quickly about our protagonist’s deal, which is really testament to how fast the ball starts rollin’ in this thing. I mean, the title card comes in at the 0:00 mark, which really sets the tone.
Jack: The director, Mike Flanagan, is not a rookie to the horror scene, having previously directed 2013’s Oculus, a movie which I didn’t particularly like, but didn’t hate either.
Jake: Hard hitting analysis, thanks buddy. Glad I didn’t miss much. Also noteworthy is that this thing was released by Netflix. Everyone can see it.
Jack: The movie opens with some terrific sound design. The camera is super close-up on the protagonist, Maddie, making dinner. As she cuts onions and does other cooking-type things, the sound is super intense for what she’s doing, almost blowing out levels, but not quite. It’s severe, and frankly some of the best foley art since these heros:
Jake: It was pretty intense, and I found it was an effective way to convey what Maddie’s issues are without having to break into a ton of exposition to explain it. When the direction flipped a switch and made it silent/muffled, you immediately understand she is deaf.
Jack: It works quite well. I agree that it felt like a very original way to establish her deafness. Showing rather than telling. Good screenwriting. Unfortunately, that refreshing gem of non-exposition fades all too quickly as Maddie’s “next door” neighbor comes over to say hi. I put next door in quotes there because they’re in the middle of the dang woods, so it’s not really next door, but it’s clear that she’s only a few hundred yards down the road. And be warned: here be exposition. Maddie’s neighbor has come over to tell her about how good her newly published book was. We also get some stuff about how Maddie’s working on her new book, how she can read lips, and how she lost her hearing. It’s essentially just an info-dump. Although it’s not all bad; unlike some scenes of exposition in other movies, the neighbor character doesn’t feel unnecessary, and how long it takes her to walk over to Maddie’s actually does start to instill a little nagging feeling of isolation. We also get exposure to Chekhov’s fucking fire alarm. Don’t worry about it, that'll make sense later.
Jake: I’m not really sure why, but at first, I thought the girl next door was her girlfriend or potential love interest. The way this whole sequence of the film was shot, with them texting and joking before she came over just seemed flirtatious.
Jack: I didn’t get that at all, but who am I to say what the hell was going on in that twisted brain of yours? In any case, the exposition wouldn’t have been quite as frustrating if it hadn’t immediately cut to a much more adept way of handling it: the neighbor gives Maddie’s book back and the camera lingers on the “About the Author” fold on the inside of the cover. That felt totally normal, as those things are expositional in real life, and repeated some of the information we just learned from the forced dialog with the neighbor. If the filmmakers had just done that for all the necessary exposition, then Maddie and her neighbor could have had a normal conversation that didn’t pick apart the immersion the movie was already starting to establish. And look, both women’s acting is quite good, and I’m trying to say it’s the worst exposition ever or anything, but it still got to me . . .
Jake: Their conversation, which is in sign language, mind you, is a bit redundant with the cooking scene and the well handled book cover backstory, I’ll agree. I think we are getting a little far past another element of the film that helps set the tone, though. Technology. All the god damned Apple noises (why? No idea, it’s not like she can fucking hear them) happening at the beginning of the movie and Maddie’s interchangeable use of her computer and phone really show how much she is depending on technology to get by. She can’t talk or hear, so texting and facetime are all the more important. You could really go further if you wanted, too. She’s a writer and makes a living from what she writes on her computer.
Jack: Oh boy. Here we go again. Jake, authors can use computers to write things. Not everything has to be all scotch and typewriters. You fucking hipster. Print media is dead.
Jake: I just don’t think there’s any science supporting that theory. Anyway, when her neighbor leaves, Maddie goes back to cooking and what do we get? We get a Legolas. Out of fucking nowhere. Her neighbor comes running back to the house bloody and screaming and starts banging on the windows; causing a whole scene. Then she takes an arrow to the back out of nowhere, and a masked dude scurries up and proceeds to stab her at least thirteen times. I counted. He notices that the girl inside appears to gives zero fucks about all his hard-earned scariness so he just keeps stabbing away. It’s actually pretty funny. Except for the egregious lack of blood. I’m no med student, but I’m guessing if someone was stabbed that many times, there would at least be enough blood to soak her shirt. Because of that there was at least a three second sequence where I was forced to believe she was actually an alien or some shit and our masked elf-man is heroically saving the planet from utter annihilation. Real Shyamalan twist.
Jack: I’m not sure if that bothered me as much as it did you, but I can’t say that I didn’t notice it. Which is kind of a shame because that black comedy scene where the killer (and his character’s name is literally just fucking “Man”), is trying to get Maddie to notice him and then starting to put together that she’s deaf is top notch. I loved that scene. And I would have loved it all the more if I wasn’t thinking about how much blood the neighbor had in her.
Jake: His mask was great too. It checks all the boxes of great horror masks. A) it’s a mask. B)... well... yep.
Jack: We are both on fire with the analysis tonight huh? I loved the mask so much. Look, masks in slashers are well-worn territory, so whenever a movie can come along and find an original take on it that still feels simple and not over-the-top that’s quite an accomplishment. Flanagan, or maybe the costume designer, accomplished exactly that.
Jake: STOP. If you’re about to call this one a slasher too, I swear I’m going to leave this crackerjack operation in the middle of this write-up.
Jack: Well no. I am not calling this movie a slasher. Although it does have some of the elements, I’d argue it’s further away from a slasher than The Strangers.
Jake: I can’t do it. I can’t. This is actually way more of a slasher than The Strangers. Keeping in mind that it’s still decidedly not a slasher. I thought we’d come so far, and here we are, arguing about...
[Editor's note: This movie absolutely is a slasher and both these guys are idiots.]
Jack: I don’t want to re-hash that whole thing man. Last time we had the same argument twice our editor Mark started yelling about deja vu and knowing kung fu, and next thing you know we’ve got a lawsuit on our hands because he roundhouse kicked a poor woman in a red dress right in the fucking face. As a side-note, I question his comprehension of that movie . . .
Jack: There are a few other great moments from his initial stalking of Maddie that I want to talk about. First, the filmmakers have a nice little touch where Maddie’s phone keeps ringing, and she doesn’t do anything about it because why would she because she’s deaf. That sound of an unanswered phone really puts me on edge. Like I’m a heroic Animorph and the phone is a fucking Yerk. Adds to the tension the movie was creating. Also there’s a moment where Maddie is on a video call with her sister who is telling Maddie how isolated she is. Meanwhile, “Man” is taking Maddie’s phone, further isolating her. It’s a nice and subtle touch.
Jake: Again. Why is it ringing? She’s deaf. Does she just not know it’s set to maximum volume? Don’t answer that, it was rhetorical. I get it. It’s for the audience. But it’s these sort of seemingly little things that can collectively ruin the immersion over the course of a film.
Jack: Look man, I get it. I’m usually the guy talking about those little elements in these things. Hell, last week I was compared to Andy Rooney. But this one didn’t take anything away from me for this movie. Like, if you’re deaf, why expend the energy to turn off the ringer? Who gives a fuck?
Jake: First off, you compared yourself to Andy Rooney. Second, it’d be a constant reminder, man. And also annoy the shit out of any human connections you do have. Maybe it’s an explanation of why she lives alone in the woods. Anyway, Maddie finally notices Man is there, and she’s appropriately terrified. Her setting does feel really isolated, and her inability to speak or hear only amplifies that at first. Add to that the fact that the killer has her phone, and the writing has pretty effectively illustrated that she is the underdog in this game of cat and mouse. She actually makes an intelligent move and goes to her computer to try to dial 911 over her internet, but the killer, who is relatively intelligent as well, cuts the power and her wifi is gone, removing her last lifeline. Oh, and we’re only like 20 minutes into this thing. You truly get a sense that she is screwed.
Jack: Yeah, and it’s a strong sense. The viewer really starts to feel some of the fright that Maddie must be feeling. It’s effective. Although, I didn’t have as many things take away from my immersion by this point. In any case, Maddie thinks quickly and scrawls a message to Man in lipstick on the window. She indicates that she hasn’t seen his face, so no harm no foul, he’s totally good to just bail. She then illuminates the message with a flashlight, ensuring that Man will find and read it.
Jake: Notice it he does, but he doesn’t begin to fall for her bullshit. Being the psychotic asshole that he is, he breaks the typical masked killer formula and takes his mask off, revealing himself to be none other than John Gallagher Jr. Perhaps the most everyman-lookin’ motherfucker they could have chosen as the killer. And this is no doubt by design. In an interview with Modern Horrors, Flanagan actually says they wanted Man to be “someone you could bump into at Whole Foods”.
Jack: Hey Jake . . . we do horror reviews . . . why didn't we think to interview Mike Flanagan?
Jake: You uh . . . you've read our stuff, right? And you've seen the chicken shit operation we've got here? That's why.
Jack: Right. Got it. Other people's "standards" or whatever. But oh well, sometimes you eat the bar and all that. I do wish that they had kept Man’s mask on a little while longer. I certainly didn’t dislike John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the villain, and seeing his face was a part of that, but I felt like the mask was terrifying and I wanted the mystery alive for longer. There’s a pretty great moment of screenwriting in here though: As Man has cut the power to the house, Maddie tries the neighbor’s wi-fi, and he uses the phone he stole from her to see if she has the network password. She doesn’t, and he now knows that she doesn't. It was clever.
Jake: Now, we’ve hinted that John Gallagher is not a scary looking dude. Man’s neck tat alone further detracts from that, and with him now lacking the mystery afforded by the mask, we enter what I felt was a very awkward section of the film. Which is to say, the whole fucking rest of the film felt a little awkward. Man has a personality. He interacts with Maddie. He’s psychotic, but controlled. He is a character that isn’t full-throttle on the looney scale. It left me wanting to know more about him, and certainly removed some of the fear factor associated with watching him tromp around the exterior of the house while he fucks with Maddie. I could have done without the flourish of strings every single time she sees him.
Jack: I actually didn’t notice that music at all. You’re making it sound like it was The Orphanage, which it certainly was not. I thought these scenes were pretty good. Although I agree with you that Man’s neck tattoo is about as intimidating as Aaron Carter’s:
Jake: Eventually, Maddie grabs a hammer, and Man tries to get in by lifting a window while Maddie pushes from the top in an effort to keep him out. There’s no way she could have out-muscled him in this scenario. He was in a more powerful physiological position and is also stronger to begin with. The movie blows past it though, and Maddie smashes his hand with the back of the hammer, buying herself a bit of time.
Jack: I’m not so sure, but shit, I’m not a window-physicist. Maddie is a great protagonist. She’s resourceful, strong, and smart. Plus the filmmakers really use the military concept that the defending army has a natural advantage. Maddie is smaller and mostly unarmed, but she’s inside the house and Man is outside. I mean, she’s not window-physicist smart, but so few are.
Jack: There’s really just not a whole lot to say about this section of the movie. Man menaces Maddie, Maddie fights back. Rinse. Repeat. I’m not trying to say it’s not good by any means, because it is. There’s just not a lot to talk about in a review.
Jake: Agreed. That would be what professionals with journalistic integrity do. Therefore, we most definitely do not.
Jack: We do get a very brief glimpse into Man’s backstory. At some point during the back and forth, Maddie manages to strip Man’s main weapon, a crossbow, away from him and take it for herself. As she looks at it, she sees some notches carved in the side of it, presumably noting kills. It was kind of cool, but actually just bugged me a shitload because of the order whatever PA was on duty that day carved the notches into the crossbow. They’re not at all in order. Why the fuck would you carve them like this? Just remembering it is getting me all worked up.
Jake: Maybe because you are a psychopath, Jack. Not the royal you, but you, Jack. Man’s normal as shit. I mean, remember his conversational tone and totally normal dialogue with the neighbor’s boyfriend, who came over to try to find her? He’s all the way there, mentally. He knows that beefcake will take him down, so he deftly hatches a plan to pose as a deep (and I mean deep) undercover deputy. Even after he stabs the guy in the neck and cuts every ligament in his knee, the guy almost chokes him out.
Jack: Yeah, I agree, the way the script is winking at the audience is pretty excellent. I’m a sucker for any self-aware dialog. There’s also a really unique and fucking cool shot that happens here. Maddie gives readying the crossbow one last shot, and to do so, she puts the nose of it on the floor. As the crossbow swings down, the camera follows in lock-step, rotating quickly. It doesn’t really fit the rest of the movie, but it definitely fits the intensity of the scene.
Jake: At this point in the film, Maddie knows she’s up shit creek. She’s been shot with an arrow, has no way to call for help, and her car has been ransacked. So what does she do? Well… she relies on her super hero writer powers to envision all the possible endings she is faced with and has the grand epiphany that she needs to kill Man to get out of this. Holy fuck. I was blown away. I can’t believe the movie had the balls to pull a twist so unforeseen as the protagonist, who has been fighting for an hour, concluding she should kill her pursuer. This is the stuff legends are made of…. I fucking hated it.
[Editor's note: It is also the stuff slashers are made of.]
Jack: Yeah, her “writer’s brain” super power was stupid. Really stupid. I actually liked this movie a fair little bit, but that’s in spite of the way that scene plays out. Also, I get that they were going for the super intense scene where she decides to kill him, but she says “Kill Him” in sign language to emphasize the screenwriters’ point. Who in the flying fuck was the character signing that to? Not the character as a function of the movie, but the character as a previously believable human. It really bugged me. The whole scene had all the gravitas of Zach Morris using his time-out super power.
Jake: Maddie coaxes Man into coming into the house by calling him a coward. As we all know, insulting a man named Man’s manhood is the surefire way to get him to go on the offensive. He quickly and effortlessly proceeds to fucking obliterate her hand in the door of her house. Like, all kinds of break every bone in it. She manages to lock the door and scurry up to the bathroom. By now, the movie has reiterated Maddie’s deafness several times by sucking all the noise out of certain scenes. This is one of those. And by this point, I was over it. I get it. Make a silent film if you want to beat into the ground that things are quiet for her.
Jack: It is an interesting dilemma. I liked what they were doing with transitioning to Maddie’s perspective, but it does ruin the immersion. I sure as fuck don’t know how to fix it, but it was a little jarring.
Jake: In the bathroom, Maddie rests, knife in hand, waiting for Man to come flying in the door. Thing is, she’s deaf, remember? So little does she know Man actually climbed up to the room, came in through the window, and is now directly behind her, ready to kill. And just when he goes in for the stab-o-rama I’m sure he was playing for, she feels his breath on the back of her neck. She turns and stabs him in the leg, knocking his weapon away. For a writer, she sure forgot the ending she wrote for this thing during that moment, because she had the perfect opportunity to kill him right there. It’s pretty inarguable that this was not the most certain chance she was going to get. And she fucking ran back downstairs. I was not entertained.
Jack: I actually disagree with you on that one. She knows that she made contact with him, but doesn’t know that he dropped his knife because she’s deaf, and only knows that he might not be dead and is still right behind her at neck level. I definitely believe trying to put some space between her and Man to regroup and get ready for the final kill. And then the final kill happens. And it’s not great. We get the obligatory return of the absurdly loud fire alarm that was introduced earlier (told you it would make sense, have some fucking faith in me) which distracts man, but not Maddie, and she sprays wasp killer directly into his eyes. Then there’s more struggle and he starts choking her. After her windpipe is almost certainly crushed, she manages to reach for a corkscrew and jam it right through his neck so hard it pokes out the other side.
Jake: Blood pumps everywhere as he dies. Much more than the girl he stabbed thirteen or more times. Maddie grabs her phone and calls 911, and waits for the cops to arrive to sort through the mess. One thing we know for sure - she probably won’t be able to talk for a while due to what is surely a severe tracheal injury.
Jack: Oof. Too soon. Luckily I’ve learned a trick to wrap up from a pretty good author whose first book just came out but who’s having trouble with the next. Sometimes less is more. And in that vein,
La la la
Blah Blah Blah
Money now please.
For 1, think of how the Dude would rate this aggression:
For 10, think of how Kramer would rate the adults-only dentist:
Jack: 5 - Ultimately this is a standard home invasion story. They went out of the box a little with the deaf/mute thing, and that was pretty cool. The screenwriters proved they knew how to show rather than tell, but then didn't always do that, which is almost more frustrating than a badly written story.
Jake: 5 - I think this story deserves some props for its take on the home invasion sub genre and for doing something new. It’s a simple concept, but one that took a few jumps, which mostly paid off. Where I found the story fell short was simply in the writing during the final third. The writer’s brain super power was astoundingly stupid and actually kind of robbed some of the respect I had for an otherwise smart and resourceful lead protagonist.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 6 - This movie does a decent job of sucking the viewer into the world. It's interesting because of how, not being deaf, the scenes from Maddie's perspective are necessarily not relate-able, but are thought-provoking.
Jake: 4 - I mentioned in the review that there were many small issues (like the phone’s being set to notification noises) that all added up to remove me from the film a lot.
Jack: 3 - Maybe Maddie is too capable a heroine. Maybe John Gallagher Jr. just isn’t that scary in this role. I’m not sure what exactly it is, but the movie just never really made me scared. I did get a little squirmy when you see Maddie’s busted-up fingers, but overall just not very scary.
Jake: 4 - Due to the issues I mentioned in the Story and World-Building/Immersion sections, by the end, it was not easy to put myself in that place and situation, which is a shame because the concept of being stalked by someone you cannot hear is terrifying. Even if that killer is the hipster who bought the organic lettuce and raw honey at Whole Foods earlier that day.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 6 - I wanted to give this section a higher score, because the restraint shown is pretty great. The movie doesn’t rely heavily on the effects at all, and it’s to its advantage. Unfortunately the few gore scenes kind of ruined it. The bloodless woman at the beginning, Maddie’s survival with a crushed windpipe, and Man’s spurting blood from the wine opener were all less than stellar.
Jake: 5 - Not a lot going on here, which is generally good. There was a great deal of inconsistency in the amount of blood per person in this film, however. They had one job to do, and that was to find a chick to stab who actually contained blood. That’s how it works, right?
Jack: 5 - I enjoyed this movie. I didn’t love it, but some of the scenes were pretty great and innovative. The performances were all around commendable, and the actress playing Maddie was downright excellent. I don’t know if I’ll seek this out for another viewing, but I’m certainly not turning it off if it makes its way onto my tv.
Jake: 4.5 - I liked some elements of this movie, but on the whole, there were just too many issues for me to truly say I enjoyed it. Can’t say I’d watch it again, but not sure it’s quite bad enough for me to warn people about either. This is America, afterall.