SXSW: Hush: Pure Claustrophobic Terror – NP Approved

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Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.

I came to the horror genre late. There’s a story that involves Killer Klowns and a terrified little boy, but that’s a story for another time. The experience led me to miss out on years of genuine scares because once you become an adult, it gets a lot harder to be scared. Regardless of the frequency of jump scares or buckets of gore, I felt no deep ramifications, no lingering itchiness as I approached dark corners or trouble falling asleep. What was I doing wrong? Turns out it was nothing in particular, I was just waiting for Mike Flanagan’s Hush.

It manages to oscillate between a ruckus that will cause your heart to take on a new pattern to a low ringing that will drive you insane.

The very nature of Hush is quite simple; its premise is so obvious that it’s somewhat amazing that we haven’t already seen this attempted somewhere else. But that may be part of the charm of Hush and its first steps on the path to success. Flanagan doesn’t deal with complex supernatural bits or build some plot that hopes to surprise in its very structure. He has stripped the film down to its basest elements, dropping exposition, lopping off romance, and exorcising the cinematic fakery that can so often plague the genre. Instead, Hush is about strength, it’s about survival, and more than anything else, it’s about terror.

hush 2Its script is lean, but that’s to be expected of a film with a mute lead. Literally less than a quarter of the film contains spoken dialogue. But Flanagan uses the lack of words to his own betterment, building real time tension through exquisite sound design. It’d be simple for me to describe this film as something of a silent picture, but that simplification is barely accurate. The sound design is fully aware of its world, combining both the atmospheric with a score from the Newton Brothers that builds and grows. I cannot say enough good things about the way this sounds, from the tap of a glass to the sensory overload that is the texture of its silence. It manages to oscillate between a ruckus that will cause your heart to take on a new pattern to a low ringing that will drive you insane. Seriously, this film is one of the most aurally fascinating and sonically rich films that I have ever experienced.

More than anything else, this is a film that refuses to stop. It rockets out like the bullet from a gun. I was floored with just how quickly it gets to the mayhem. So often horror films are positively overflowing with expositional build, but Flanagan doesn’t dally here, choosing rather to thrust his audience into complete horror before they are even close to being ready for it. And that is part of the appeal, rather than cinematic musings there is an authenticity to Hush’s urgency. For it draws upon that fear of being home alone. It’s a fear that I would argue all of us have had since our youth. As a child, an empty house and a knock at the door was one of the most frightening things that could occur. Transforming that world into one where you cannot even hear your own impending doom makes it all the more palpable. Hush is a childhood fear matured to adulthood which just makes you feel all the more helpless.

If you leave this movie and are not filled with a mixture of creeping dread and a magnified fear of dark corners, then your nerves are much stronger than mine.

With such a small cast, it is paramount that the actors handily deliver. Kate Siegel, with nary a spoken word, is immediately charming and welcoming. It is tempting to describe her as having an “every woman” quality, however there is a deeper strength that elevates her to a higher plane. Some of this may be attributed to Siegel pulling double duty on the film, also serving as co-writer, because her Maddie is written with a note of delicacy that lends to her impressive depth. She is a fully fleshed out person whose mistakes feel honest rather than plot contrivances. Her strength is matched in performance by John Gallagher Jr. Hush is something of a departure for John Gallagher Jr. who typically caters to more lovable and affable types, but he owns it so completely. Leveraging many of the qualities that make him so accessible as a love interest, he gives them the slightest tweak here pushing the role past creepy into menacing. You can sense the excitement in his actions, the unbridled glee he has for this new challenge. He is a monster playing with his food, with a seemingly unstoppable power that is all the more hair raising.

Never has a film so thoroughly scared me as Hush. Long stretches of the film were spent with me questioning whether or not my breathing was even necessary. Hush pulls you to the edge of your seat and leaves you teetering there, your nerves pulled taught, ready to snap. Mike Flanagan has delivered a claustrophobic tale of horror that speeds along with you clinging for any type of grip. It is a film of atmosphere, built fantastically with exquisite sound design and an authenticity that is all the more troubling.

I walked out of my screening of Hush into darkness, terrified and alone. For the first time in my life, I was having trouble making the film stop. The fear was still real, my world bleeding into Hush’s. If you leave this movie and are not filled with a mixture of creeping dread and a magnified fear of dark corners, then your nerves are much stronger than mine.

I no longer trust a sliding glass door at night.

9.4 AMAZING

Never has a film so thoroughly scared me as Hush ... Mike Flanagan has delivered a claustrophobic tale of horror that speeds along with you clinging for any type of grip. It is a film of atmosphere, built fantastically with exquisite sound design and an authenticity that is all the more troubling.

  • 9.4
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About Author

Derek was the only engineer at Northeastern University taking a class on German film and turning a sociology research paper into an examination of Scorsese’s work. Now in Austin, TX, he blatantly abuses his Netflix account on the reg, although his List mocks him as it proudly sits healthily above 200. He continues to fight the stigma that being good at math means you are not any no good at writing. I good write, very much.