[Review] ‘Hush’ Puts a New Twist on Slasher Tropes

Normally when a new horror film makes its debut at a festival we have to wait months or even years (in the case of the “Green Infernos”) before we can see it.  However, this time around we didn’t have too long to wait.  Even before it’s debut at SXSW Netflix announced that it would release “Hush” this month, just weeks after it’s premiere.  But is “Hush” a worthy addition to Netflix’s roster of exclusives?

“Hush” comes by way of director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”) who co-wrote the feature with star Kate Siegel.  In the film Siegel plays a deaf/mute author by the name of Maddie who lives in an house out in the woods.  Aside from the occasional visits from her neighbor Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), Maddie lives an isolated life.  However, her peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of a masked killer bent on toying with Maddie before putting her out of her misery.

At first “Hush” might feel like any number of slasher films you’ve seen.  We start off with a house in the woods and a woman all by her lonesome.  At this point we know it’s only a matter of minutes before we get the POV shot of someone watching her in the woods shortly before they strike.  But as much as “Hush” embraces the familiarity, it also provides a refreshing take on genre tropes.

To start with, our lead protagonist is a woman who is both deaf and mute.  The film has inventive audio cues and direction that gives context to Maddie’s disability and we even get whole scenes done partially in sign language.  Although, from what I heard, the sign language is a little off.  But to regular joes like me who don’t know a lick of it, it looked perfectly fine.  But the key to Maddie’s character is the performance by Kate Siegel who portrays her not as a disabled woman, but as a confident and well-rounded person with a disability they live with.

The killer in the film is portrayed by John Gallagher Jr. who recently had a great performance in “10 Cloverfield Lane” as the loveable Emmet.  Here he ditches the goofy charm in favor of a more psychotic facade.  In an interesting twist, the villain starts off with a mask, but quickly tosses it aside to make the encounter with Maddie much more personal.  And since our main protagonist is mute, Gallagher winds up doing much of the talking in the film.  Once again Gallagher gives another great performance as his character ranges from being a silent menace stalking Maddie to being a very plain spoken antagonist.

Some of the best moments in “Hush” are when the film plays with Maddie’s disability.  There’s an extra layer of tension in this film as we see scenes with the killer standing inches away from Maddie and she’s completely oblivious to his presence. In any other horror film this would be an annoying contrivance, but here it makes sense given Maddie’s condition. The risk is more palpable  for our character as she’s in constant believable danger.

Unfortunately the film does succumb to a few negative slasher movie trappings.  One scene in particular nearly sucked the life out of the film for me.  It’s a moment where Maddie does something unbelievably dumb that leads to some disastrous consequences.  Immediately after this moment Maddie displays that she has a special ability that she calls “writer’s brain” that allows to her to see all sorts of outcomes and branching paths.  So where was this incredible ability when she screwed up big time?  It was a profoundly frustrating moment for me as Maddie had been a very competent heroine up until that moment. And then, not too long after, she goes back to being her normal self.  It’s a trying moment in the film that nearly derailed the whole experience for me.

However, while “Hush” has that huge misstep near the climax, the film manages to rebound well and end on a strong note.  Overall it’s a well thought out slasher film with great suspense and a few decent chills.  If you’ve got a Netflix account just dying to be used then be sure to watch “Hush.”  It’s a delightful film that’ll please fans of the slasher genre.

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