Hush (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #578

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 12, 2016 (SXSW), April 8, 2016
Sub-Genre: Home Invasion
Budget: $1,000,000
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Mike Flanagan
Producers: Trevor Macy, Jason Blum
Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Special Effects: Ken Gorrell
Visual Effects: Bret Culp
Cinematography: James Kniest
Score: The Newton Brothers
Editing: Mike Flanagan
Studios: Blumhouse Productions, Intrepid Pictures
Distributor: Netflix
Stars: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emma Graves

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The Newton Brothers Against The Odds

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It’s astonishing the simple things that we take for granted. A few years back the hearing in my left ear suddenly began to rapidly deteriorate and I found this state of affairs rather desperate. Mercifully one quick trip to the doctor’s surgery and a strangely satisfying syringing later, and crisis was averted. I recall the walk home with a smile as it felt splendid to hear the birds chirping in the trees once more and I came away like a brand new person. However, the mere thought of being surrounded by constant silence is one I try my level best not to contemplate. Throw a dash of muteness into the mix and I can only imagine the kind of immense frustration you would feel. To not be able to vocalize as well as discern audio leaves you banking on sign language to spark up a conversation and precious few can boast having this communication tool in their repertoire. So this just leaves all too familiar silence.

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Having grown up in a household with somebody blighted with disability, I know only too well of the intense frustration this brings. Over time, the afflicted party eventually learns to make the best of this bad situation and there are numerous ways to adapt your environment to make things slightly easier. You learn to get on with it as there is nothing worse to a person suffering from impairment than for those around them to take pity on them. By all accounts they are exactly like everyone else, just a little unique and this appears the very best way of rationalizing. That said, when events take a turn for the worse and they are left to their own devices in perilous circumstances, it all hits home in a heartbeat. Being both deaf and mute subtracts two of the five available senses from the equation and, should a game of death be on the agenda, then they soon find themselves well and truly hamstrung.

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Mike Flanagan’s Hush focuses on one such pressure-cooker situation and, for Madison Young (Kate Siegel who also co-wrote the screenplay), there is no such thing as home sweet home. Since being struck down with bacterial meningitis at the tender age of thirteen, Maddie has been both legally deaf and mute, and has long since learned to adapt. Now a promising author putting the finishing touches on her latest novel, she lives in a secluded cottage far away from the hustle and bustle of suburban life and this suits her down to the ground. Apart from close friends Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) and John (Michael Trucco) who live directly next door, it’s peace and quiet all the way for Maddie or, at least, it has been until now.

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At a decidedly brief 81 minutes, Hush dithers not in placing its hampered lead in tremendous peril. Barely a quarter of an hour has passed before things take a considerable turn for the worse, and you would be forgiven for expecting no real bonds to have been formed in such a meager amount of time. This provides the first clue that we are in capable hands as Fanagan and Siegel have written such immensely likeable characters that we are desperate for no harm to befall them. When you consider that a superabundance of dialogue isn’t something they have at their disposal, that’s some feat. Moreover, we effortlessly slide into Maddie’s head space and learn all that we need to know about her going forward through expression alone.

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When the bough breaks and, trust me, it’s felled, it quickly settles into the average cat-and-mouse rhythm and calls to mind Bryan Bertino’s creditworthy 2008 chiller The Strangers, particularly given the hollow eyed mask of her resident tormentor. This is all well and good but I couldn’t help but house a couple of concerns. Firstly, I’ve pretty much had my fill of home invasion movies and I didn’t particularly relish more of the same. Secondly, with over an hour’s runtime to fill and a total cast of four people (one of whom only appears via web cam), it proposed a long slog that didn’t bode well for the crucial second act. However I really need not have fretted as Flanagan fishes for the fresh in an otherwise stale sub-genre and gets a nibble before I could so much as preset my frown.

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Ordinarily I would be careful here of revealing anything likely to act as a spoiler but, considering we’re barely twenty minutes in when the revelation arrives and it astonishingly only serves to crank up the tension, I feel justified in making an exception here. The prowler (John Gallagher Jr.) decides to remove his disguise and I can already hear the groans as this is traditionally a dick move when attempting to coerce us to the edge of our seats. But the manner in which this plays out says so much about this trespassing terrorizer that we’re begging him to put it back on in an instant. With the identity card now played, Flanagan begins to make the very most out of his key ingredient and asks us to spare a thought for how Maddie is feeling with no conceivable way of foiling any sneak attacks.

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Every time we consider her muted plight, and Flanagan uses such tools as ultrasound machines for ambience to supply infrequent reminder, The walls come closing in around us. While the house appears secure, her antagonist is pitched outside patiently playing his twisted game, making it something of a fortress from which escape looks decidedly dicey. There is no motivation supplied and Hush benefits massively from the ambiguity. We’re not here to know, we’re here to feel, and every last stop is pulled out to ensure that we do precisely that. If it all feels a dash predictable, then let me assure you that Flanagan’s film is not here simply to put in a shift and he pulls the rug out from beneath our feet on a number of occasions, to maximum effect no less.

The Newton Brothers Do It

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Speaking of effect, there are a number of ways in which he achieves this. The direction is super slick, James Kniest’s cut-throat sharp cinematography constricts at will and bleeds as much suspense from its sole location as possible, and The Newton Brothers donate a score which is both unintrusive and, at the same time, both quietly eerie and suitably emotionally charged when required. And it needs to be as Siegel is flat-out phenomenal as the cornered prey and her steady shift from dread head to game face lends a real heft to proceedings that sets Hush apart from so many of its contemporaries so effortlessly that it’s borderline embarrassing. The miniscule cast all play their part but it is Maddie who serves as our linchpin and I can’t speak highly enough of Siegel’s transitional turn.

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As already mentioned, home invasion movies are like wallpaper to me now, and there’s just not enough room for manoeuvre to truly elevate to the next level. Therefore, the fact that Hush is second only to Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside on the house arrest front in my opinion speaks volumes for just how masterfully produced, paced, and played it is. There is little here that you wouldn’t have seen before and Michael Apted’s Blink placed Madeline Stowe in a similarly precarious position, albeit opting for blindness as its angle. But with the likes of Absentia and Oculus already under his belt, horror heavyweight Jason Blum now well in the mix, and this marvellous little film doing a bang up job of furthering his fast-growing reputation, things are looking decidedly bright for both Flanagan. Now that’s something worth shouting from the rooftops at the very top of your voice in my opinion.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Gushing grue is evidently not going to be on the platter with so few pawns to perforate. Nevertheless, Hush has itself something of a mean streak and there is a surprising amount of brutality packed into it duration, along with a couple of genuine wince-inducing moments.

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Read Inside Appraisal
Read The Strangers Appraisal
Read The Purge Appraisal
Read You’re Next Appraisal

 

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