Director: Mike Flanagan
Home invasion is an anxiety we live with every day of our lives, it’s with us when we lock our doors at night and emanates from the objects of defense within arm’s reach of our bedside. It’s a tangible fear easily exploited in cinema at the confluence of relatable and cheap. A psycho-killer intruding into one’s home is pretty relatable; being able to film it in one location makes it cheap. What separates the good from the bad is the simple execution of character and story. A good movie can juggle many of the same familiar tropes so many others do, but give us flesh and blood characters, and a thoughtful, tightly wound story, and even the most tired premise can be rejuvenated. One such film is 2016’s Hush.
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a young novelist who has retreated to an isolated cottage in the country to work on her next book. A childhood illness robbed Maddie of her hearing, leaving her even more vulnerable to her would be assailant. In a lesser film this would be a ‘stop me if you’ve heard this before’ moment that doesn’t make it past the writer’s table, but instead of being used to sell a cheap plot device, it is woven seamlessly into the story, becoming another detail in a sparse, but engaging character.
In the prologue we meet a young woman happily freed from the distractions of city life, she’s struggling in a world without takeout, but she enjoys her newfound isolation. She’s even made a friend, a kind neighbor who lives down the way (Samantha Sloyan). However, there are some hints that Maddie isn’t quite content, writers block, a boyfriend she can’t move on from, and a worried family makes her feel a little bit stuck in place. All this is a subtle way of setting up the very real struggle that wanders into her house within feet of her sitting obliviously staring at her laptop screen. The killer John Gallagher Jr. steals her phone and starts sending pictures to her laptop of her sitting in her living room. Following the friendly neighbor’s brutal death literally outside Maddie’s door without her noticing, those pictures are a quiet and chilling escalation. From there begins a tight, succinct (the runtime is only 81 minutes) cat and mouse game.
There is nothing like a great location to elevate a movie, and director Mike Flanagan makes full use of the small house with a lot of windows. Maddie having a full 360 view of the perimeter of the house is able to watch the killer while staying out of his sight. It’s a slight advantage that allows her character to instigate much of the action preventing her from becoming a passive or reactionary character typical in home invasion films. This also keeps much of the perspective Maddie’s rarely having to go outside and get the killer’s perspective it keeps him at a more cold and mysterious distance while we’re with Maddie in all of her nail biting attempts of diversion and escape, and feel every impact of the killer’s foils.
Gallagher plays more of a murderous Eddie Haskel than Michael Myers, is a perfect counter to Maddie’s quiet determination. He’s not the typical physically imposing presence, rather it’s the sharp smirk he wears that evokes classic movie monsters of yore.
Lastly, will someone give Kate Siegel more work? Siegel, who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan, shows off a talent much bigger than her IMDB profile. Other than a small bit of voice over, she emotes an inner strength and vulnerability brilliantly in silence, and co-wrote one of the tightest and most satisfying scripts of 2016. This woman deserves more work.
~ James Merolla