In many ways, Hush is a conventional slasher movie with a familiar set-up: an innocent young woman attempts to outsmart a masked psychopath who is attempting to kill her. We've seen that story roughly a bajillion times since John Carpenter's Halloween, but Hush has one less familiar wrinkle to add into the mix: the young woman is deaf, which gives the psychopath an even greater advantage. The film isn't completely dialogue-free – the killer talks from time to time, as do some supporting characters who pop up here and there – but it's interesting to observe the way silence manages to make potentially generic sequences feel fresh.
The young woman is Madison “Maddie” Young (Kate Siegel, Oculus), a successful novelist who lives alone in a small, isolated cottage in the woods. One evening, she gets a visit from her neighbor Sarah (Samantha Sloyan, In the Key of Eli). They have a pleasant conversation via sign language, and then Sarah starts heading home. However, before she gets back to her house, she encounters a masked man who starts pursuing her. She runs back to Maddie's house and pounds on the door, but her efforts are in vain: Maddie can't hear her, and the masked man stabs her to death.
This gruesome prologue is a typically violent bit of slasher movie mayhem, but it serves as a sharp reminder of precisely why the deck is stacked against our hero: she stands there obliviously, washing dishes in the kitchen as her friend is slaughtered right outside the door. Indeed, it's clear that it would be incredibly easy for the killer to just break into the house and kill her, but he wants to play games with her first (slasher movie villains just love their morbid games). He sneaks into the house, steals Maddie's phone, uses it to take pictures of her and then sends the photos to her computer. The message is clear: the killer is in complete control.
However, Hush would be a dull exercise in sadism if that were actually true, so naturally Maddie turns out to be clever and resourceful in all sorts of ways. It's a good performance from Siegel, whose face is expressive enough to capture the broad range of emotions the character experiences over the course of the film. The film cleverly moves in and out of Maddie's perspective at various points, sometimes cutting the sound entirely to give us an idea of what she's experiencing (and thus allowing moments of sudden, violent sound to have a bigger impact). The killer is a bit more interesting than he seems, too: the mask is off by the twenty-minute mark (revealing that he's played by John Gallagher, Jr., The Newsroom), and eventually we realize that our villain has his own set of vulnerabilities: he's a bit too emotionally volatile to be the perfect killer.
Unfortunately, the film only has so much inventiveness to offer, and Hush feels like it's run out of ideas by the time we get to the third act. Well, let me modify that: it feels like it's run out of good ideas by that point. There's one violent fake-out that feels incredibly cheap, and another fantasy sequence (involving Maddie giving herself a motivational speech) that feels weirdly out-of-sync with the rest of the movie. More than anything, the film reminded me of “Battleground,” a dialogue-free installment of the Stephen King anthology miniseries Nightmares & Dreamscapes. That was a gimmicky affair, too, but the format ensured that it never overstayed its welcome. Hush is decent, but there's a terrific 50-minute horror movie lurking around inside this sometimes-strained 81-minute flick.
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 81 minutes
Release Year: 2016