Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Hush (2016) Review

Hush is a film built on a gimmick, but it is a compelling one, and as far as I am aware an original one. Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a young woman who since the age of 13 has been deaf and mute. She is a fiction author who has retreated to a cabin in the woods to finish her latest novel. Early on we are introduced to some of the struggles of her deafness and ways that her life is different. Her friend Sarah visits and while Maddie is seen to be able to lipread, Sarah struggles with sign language so communication is sometimes frayed. Early into the film we find that Maddie is not alone, as Sarah comes banging on her door in distress. She is brutally murdered by a tattooed man in a mask (John Gallagher Jr. credited as The Man) mere feet away from Maddie, who does not hear it and does not know. The killer therefore realises that Maddie is deaf, and proceeds to play mind games with his apparent vulnerable prey. The film does an effective job of getting this all across in an intriguing way though slightly more could have been made of his stalking her. A recurring theme of this film.

The mask that the killer wears is ominous and almost has expression to it. It presents a constant half
smile that reminded me of the face paint and masks donned by many characters in The Purge series, but in this case not to represent mental instability, but purely fear of the unknown. While the mystery I had been drawn to takes massive letdown of a turn The Man finds many creative ways of ramping up the tension and psychological torture of Maddie while never presenting her as an easy target. The mask becomes meaningless beyond being a striking image for the films poster and I found this to be a huge letdown. Despite us being able to hear every sound effect Maddies deafness still comes into play with her having to use sight tricks to throw The Man off the scent and at one point using her hand to check for the vibrations of his steps. While dealing with her handicap she is a capable opponent for The Man, allowing the film to stay interesting through its 80 minute runtime. As we are for the most part watching a game of Cat and Mouse between two characters, it is to the films advantage that it doesn't overstay its welcome and paces itself well. Plot shifts are done at exactly the right times to further the story and more importantly to prevent any section becoming stale. There was only one sequence that I felt went on a little too long but this was helped by the arrival of another character to add some much needed depth.

Kate Siegel puts on a convincing performance as Maddie and one that has to have been challenging given that she has to perform her role without reacting to any sound at all. This has to have gone against all her instincts and I have to praise her skill at this. John Gallagher Jr. is also solid in his role and is slightly held back by the script. He is armed with a Crossbow and a knife, two weapons that are limited. The film even states this the crossbow is only useful at long range and useless indoors. He clearly knows a fair bit about Police protocol or is possible an expert blagger. Nothing is explained about The Man which would have been a bit more bearable if Hush had maintained its sense of mystery and tension, but this was thrown out of the window leaving Gallagher's character feeling underdeveloped to a fault. If you're a viewer who likes to understand the motivation of characters like me then this film will bug you slightly.

Given that the film is about the struggle of a deaf and mute woman I felt the sound design of the film could have been toned down a bit for extra suspense. While you never truly forget Maddies predicament it would have been nice to have experienced her handicap from her perspective a little more than we do. I keep using the term handicap instead of disability or weakness because Maddie isn't shown to be disabled or weak very often, yet she is at a distinct disadvantage to her opposition. Maddie is resourceful and able to cope with pressure almost too well at times and this is the biggest
flaw with the film. If Hush had presented Maddie as a bit more vulnerable it could have made the film truly terrifying. While this is somewhat countered in the third act by the effects of the night taking their toll and a truly tense ending, the sudden shift from strong heroine to weak victim is almost frustrating. Its almost like the writers (Siegel herself and Director Mike Flanagan) couldn't decide which way to go with her and settled for a bit of both, and this only leads to a watered down Horror film.

Despite Hush being found in the Horror section on Netflix I can't say I was scared or even nervous once but I certainly was never bored. You never truly know who is going to prevail in the end, and given that one side is at a physical and sensory disadvantage, I feel like this is a flaw with the execution of what could have been a more chilling concept. For a modern thriller that presents a dark premise with mystery and twists I would recommend Split (2017) or Get Out (2017) before this film but that doesn't make Hush a bad film in any way. It makes Hush an enjoyable but passable 80 minute thriller and an ultimately disappointing horror film.

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