Hush is a home invasion horror film about a deaf novelist being tormented by a total stranger for no reason. I could also say that Hush is a modern home invasion horror film and be accurate enough.
All too often now, the home invasion subgenre is an excuse to just mindlessly torture and torment the victims with no real plot or purpose. Hush falls into that pitfall. The only thing that helps it to rise above the mindless slog of home invasion as torture trope is the depth of the lead character.
Screenwriter and star Katie Siegel, with her co-screenwriter and director Mike Flanagan, come very close to crafting a horror masterpiece just with their lead character Maddie. Maddie is an accomplished young novelist working on her second book. She lives alone in the woods, relying on technology–cellphones, laptops, specialty fire alarms–to be self-reliant. Her friends and family want her to either move back in with them or spend more time with them, but Maddie won’t have it. Maddie is deaf, but that is never used as an excuse or, worst of all, a substitute for actual character development.
Even more insidious and unforgivable than home invasion as torture film in modern horror is the use of a disability as a prop. The filmmakers conflate disability with a handicap (a mental or physical condition severely limiting someone’s ability to work or function by themselves in society), and even further use that handicap as an excuse to remove a character’s agency and victimize them just for shock value.
Hush avoids this. Frankly, the main reason I am slightly underwhelmed by Hush is the early pivot to home invasion. Maddie is a fascinating character. Her anxiety resulting from high expectations of her second novel is believable. Her relationships with her neighbor, her sister, and her ex-boyfriend help create this wonderful, intriguing universe for the story to take place in. All of it is abandoned far too soon to go into pure psychological torture in the all too typical modern style of home invasion film.
John Gallagher Jr. is an imposing and terrifying figure in spite of the screenplay’s lack of detail. The action between The Man and Maddie is carefully plotted, but his motivations and character arc are ambiguous. Once the mask comes off (again, way too soon to fully take advantage of a great use of a tired cliche), there’s little room for genuine intrigue.
Hush is scary. The gore is disturbing. The progression of the cat and mouse game has all the right beats. It just feels like a waste of potential.
I’m really struggling to think of another horror film where a deaf character is so well defined and believable. More commonly, a film will attempt to write around the disability if they aren’t just using the inability to hear as a set-up for an ironic kill later. Further, in modern horror, you just don’t find a deaf character who only communicates with sign language and does not use a hearing aid to make their dialogue and presence more accessible to a wide audience.
Maddie is deaf and mute. Nothing in the film changes this (and believe me, I was waiting for the horrible cliche of protagonist literally regaining her voice by triumphing over adversity). Hush deserves major credit for this.
I just wish we got to see more of this world that is so often ignored. Every narrative decision after the first 20 minutes is designed to remove Maddie’s agency as a self-sufficient protagonist. If these beats were stretched out further, the film could be even more terrifying. We would have had time to adjust to the restrictions placed upon Maddie and slowly realize how hopeless her situation is.
Instead, Hush abandons so much potential in favor of more familiar horror film beats. The film is still scary and cohesive; it just could have been so much more.