Mike Flanagan has built himself up into quite the horror factory of late, most famous these days for his heartfelt Stephen King adaptations and his duo of lavish Netflix series that dealt with the ghostly goings on behind the doors of both Hill House and Bly Manor. Usually obsessed with primarily supernatural shenanigans (his filmography also includes Oculus and the Ouija prequel Origin Of Evil), he has a noticable slasher standout in the form of the lean, mean horror/thriller Hush which, on first examination, seems to be a departure from the rest of his work. However, when scrutinised with the freakish intensity of a murderous stalker (because that’s how we all review films, right…?), it actually becomes apparent that despite it’s super-brief running time (Doctor Sleep was two and a half hours long, remember), Hush probably contains more of the director’s themes than anything else he’s done before or since…
Maddie is a horror author who lost her hearing to bacterial meningitis at the age of thirteen and who currently lives a reclusive life in the woods as she struggles to finish her latest story and building on the budding relationship she’s formed with her nearest neighbour, she reveals the detail that allows her to write such great endings is the ability to utilise an inner voice in her head to visualise every conceivable outcome and pick the best one to put in print. Unsurprisingly, what with this being a horror film and all, Maddie’s special skill is put to the test later that night when a man in a mask vaguely reminiscent of Michael Myers crossed with the inhuman features of Mark Zuckerberg comes a calling and decides to target Maddie for the sport of stalking someone who can’t hear him coming. Soon a lethal game of cat and mouse erupts as the deaf author and her friendly neighbourhood serial killer try to out manuever each other and try to survive the night as both scrabble for discarded mobile phones, weapons and any conceivable upper hand they can muster.
I’m not sure if you could technically class Hush as a Mike Flanagan greatest hits package, especially as a lot of the stuff I’m going to reference was made after 2016, but the film contains so many aspects of his work that show up elsewhere it’s untrue. A woman in peril story that’s made somewhat unique thanks to the story being centred around a major gimmick could also describe Gerald’s Game, his Netflix feature that had Carla Gugino trying to figure out how to escape being handcuffed to a bed; while strong female character work is also a strong centrepoint to almost everything he’s ever done. Also, let’s not downplay the presence of Kate Siegel, Flanagan’s wife and a frequent actress in his movies, who not only stars in the lead role but also co-wrote the script and sinks her teeth into the challanging role of Maddie like a starving shark. I’m assuming Siegel has fantastic cardio and impressive leg strength, because she essentially carries the whole movie, utterly convincing as a woman who is hearing impaired and managing to elicit audience sympathy without ever uttering a single syllable (unless you count guttural screeches of pain, that is).
In comparison, the rest of the minimal cast have it easy, but John Gallagher Jr. does good shit with his villainous role which chooses to ditch the mysterious, masked enigma stuff early to make his swaggering, crossbow shooting murder-twat a three dimentional misanthrope who ends up far more deserving of a final reel beat down then any faceless slasher.
The film (like a lot of Flanagan’s work) is happily lodged in the algorithms of streaming giant Netflix, but it’s a real shame that I couldn’t experience Hush in the dark on the big screen with a receptive audience as it truly loses a fair amount of it’s scaring power if watched on a sunny June lunch time because once Flanagan and Siegel are done with their economical character building, it’s pretty much a stalk-fest all the way to the end that begs you to be yelling warnings at the screen.
Considering how much Flanagan’s later work tends to run on the long side (you could argue The Haunting Of Bly Manor and Doctor Sleep were a tad bloated) it’s fascinating to go back and see what he could do with a less relaxed length and a more ramped up pace and watching him have to work overtime with the blocking, sound design and editing in order to keep things from being stale shows him to be a filmmaker who can work wonders with self imposed restrictions.
Some might find the almost non-stop incident a bit one-note and the film admittedly shares a lot of DNA with Adam Wingard’s superlative You’re Next, which also sees masked and armed – but very human – killers struggling to overcome an enormously capable female opponent in a single location (for my money, You’re Next is superior), but both manage to elevate the “final girl” trope in slasher movie into something much more than just the “nicest” girl wins.
The final ingredient that makes Flanagan’s output resonate so much (aside from putting solid charactization at the forefront of all his stories) is that his work always feels extraordinarily personal and when you realize that Siegal and Flanagan worked out most of the script by concocting it while acting it all out within their own house, it adds yet another layer to a filmmaker that isn’t afraid to drop genuine emotion into the middle of a film packed with tension, screams and the contents of peoples arteries squirting all over the shop.
Simply put, Hush contains a voice that you might wanna listen to.