Okay, here’s how we’re gonna do this: first the good, then the bad, then—in the interest of leaving on a positive note—the great.
Hush occupies that zone between horror and thriller and, likewise, it’s somewhere halfway between a slasher and a home invasion film. The movie’s protagonist, though, sets Hush firmly apart from similar movies. Maddie Young, a novelist who has secluded herself in a remote but comfortable home in the woods, is deaf and mute. She uses sign language and lip-reading to communicate but she hears no sounds and speaks no words—even her screams are silent.
This is a decidedly cool concept and, when a man in a mask and lugging a crossbow shows up to terrify her, Maddie’s predicament is doubly harrowing given her disability. The co-writer and director, Mike Finnegan (Oculus), uses Maddie’s inability to hear to twist familiar scenes and situations into wholly original ones. It is especially satisfying when Maddie uses her ostensible limitations to her advantage.
Hush is well shot, the music understated, and the use of sound—or the absence of it—is especially effective. The cast is tiny, so, thankfully, the actors are all fine (while one is actually great—more on that later).
Awright, so that’s the good. On to the bad. There is one scene, in particular, that is ridiculously, bafflingly unbelievable. This scene begins with John’s appearance, a man who is in a position to help Maddie. Unfortunately, thanks to the writers, John appears to be one of the absolute dumbest characters to ever stumble into a horror film—and, yes, I realize that’s saying a lot. It’s a high bar and John clears it easily. His capacity to be conned by the movie’s villain defies even the credulity of most children. The entire exchange involving John and the villain falls so flat that its width would have to be measured in microns.
The John scene, however, lasts only a few minutes, so let’s call it a minor hiccup. The movie’s true weakness, the Bad with a capital B, is its villain. Credited simply as The Man, the rando terrorizing Maddie is initially a genuinely creepy presence. He wears a mask that appears to have been carved from the face of mannequin, complete with an oddly serene smile that makes his acts of violence that much more disturbing. Eventually, though, The Man takes his mask off and immediately goes from mysteriously homicidal cypher to maladjusted bully.
Once that mask comes off, The Man (I hate calling him that; it gives him far too much weight) ceases to be frightening and is simply obnoxious and hateful. Sure, he is dangerous, but you know he’s just some tiny little man who was picked on in grade school, ignored by the girls in high school, and chose a crossbow as a best friend because nothing sentient would accept him.
You don’t fear The Man, you just hate him.
Take original Michael Myers, capture him, send him to prison, what happens? He makes a giant shiv out of one of his cell’s bars and proceeds to decimate the entire prison’s population. Send The Man to prison and he promptly shits himself before being passed around like pack of cigarettes at an AA meeting.
Okay, look, comparing The Man to Michael Myers is unfair, I know. But The Man was a truly shitty villain. By the end, I wasn’t just rooting for Maddie to survive, I simply wanted her to kill this boring, annoying pissant.
Which brings us to Maddie—AKA: the great part of this movie. Maddie is a truly fantastic character. She is immediately likeable. We first meet her as she is clearly trying out a new recipe—and it’s equally clear that it is not going as planned. Later, we see her struggling to come up with an ending for her second novel and her self-deprecation is genuinely endearing. She is also portrayed as a singularly capable person. She is clever, a problem-solver, and determined to survive.
Maddie’s strength as a protagonist, however, is largely thanks to Kate Siegel’s performance. Siegel, also the film’s co-writer, makes you truly feel for Maddie, whether she’s debating Facetiming her ex or fighting off a piece-of-shit home invader; and she does this without saying a single word (aside from an excellent scene during which she applies her method for solving plotting issues in her novels to her real-life situation, a form of self-talk that allows her to analyze her options one by one).
Siegel and Maddie are both fantastic, which only makes The Man’s deficiencies as an antagonist all the more glaring: Maddie deserves a better villain.
Oh, but, shit, I said I wanted to end on a positive note and that last bit was certainly not positive. Okay, well, despite the bad, the good and especially the great make Hush well worth the watch.