A deaf writer lives and works in her secluded home in the woods where she gets few visitors. Then one night, a masked man shows up and stalks her in an unnerving game of cat and mouse. Director Mike Flannagan and lead actress Kate Siegel co-wrote Hush which all takes place in and around the lead’s, Maddie’s, home. The limited settings work here as Maddie is trying to escape this mad man without help or access to the outside world. This is a movie with a total of five characters, two of which support the bulk of the story. The characters here feel real, not caricatures of real people or stereotypes.
Yes, the lead is deaf which here is a plot device but it works and she may be at a disadvantage not being able to hear her stalker or herself but she is not completely helpless and shows a lot of strength as opposed to being a damsel in distress. She is a wise, intelligent woman who also happens to be deaf. Having a mute and deaf lead does have some challenges such as how do we know what she is thinking or wants to say if others around her are not proficient in ASL and how do the writers handle dialogue? In Hush, without spoiling anything, how both of these are handled makes sense and works, a sign of good writing. Flannagan also directed here and as a non-fan of his only other of his movies seen by this reviewer, “Absentia,” I can say that this film is much stronger and feels less sluggish (for lack of a better word). Here he constructs a film that makes the best use of its self-imposed limitations: One location, a small cast, and a deaf lead character.
These challenges become strengths for this film and add to the feeling of the story, where the viewer want Maddie, our heroine, to get out of it all alive, no matter what it takes. Cast as the lead, Kate Siegel has the difficult task of showing all her emotions and thoughts without speaking. Yes, in some scenes she uses sign language (which is subtitled), but for most of the film she is either alone or dealing with someone she cannot communicate with.
A performance like this could easily have fallen in exaggerations or have become a situation where the actress was hamming it up, both of which she avoids gracefully, giving Maddie personality and a sense of reality which in turn adds to her survival story. Working opposite Siegel is John Gallagher Jr. as the stalker/potential killer of Maddie who never has a name, keeping his identity and reasons for doing this a mystery. T the menace he brings to his part is also a bit more clouded in questions as the character is not clear on his reasoning and the actor plays it was someone who knows very well what he is doing. He starts off as a mostly calm menace, a man sure of himself, who eventually gets more and more frustrated and seemingly unstable as his prey keeps getting away from him.
Both Siegel and Gallagher play very well against each other, bringing an extra layer to their cat and mouse game. Worth noting, some scenes in this film have no music, which felt as if they were from Maddie’s “point of hearing”. These scenes worked really well without music on them and along with the rest of the film which has a score. The music-less scenes made this reviewer pay more attention to the sounds surrounding Maddie and her house as she struggles to survive.
The struggle for survival and how the characters and story are developed make Hush a suspenseful watch as well as an entertaining one. What could have been tedious, one house with one mute girl inside, was the exact opposite with a few twists and turns worth a watch or two.
Hush comes out on Netflix on April 8th, 2016.