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The yang to Don’t Breathe‘s yin, Mike Flanagan’s Hush made SXSW the go-to place for home-invasion thrillers revolving around disability. Where the earlier film offered a blind target, Hush centers on a deaf woman who doesn’t even know she’s targeted by a killer until he begins taunting her, evidently just because he enjoys the game. Less enjoyable than its counterpart but still offering plenty of mainstream appeal (and made all the more marketable by the creepy mask its villain wears), the pic will make a fine programmer for Netflix, who bought theatrical rights early in the fest. Subscribers who live in middle-of-nowhere houses should respond especially well.
Mystery writer Maddie (Kate Siegel) is having a relaxed evening at home, catching up online with her sister, even as her friend Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) is being massacred feet away from her — pounding on Maddie’s back door for help, too desperate to realize her friend can’t hear her. Once Sarah’s masked killer understands the situation, he’s not content to just break in and slay Maddie; instead he uses Sarah’s phone to send taunting texts, launching an evil game he will keep playing even after he loses the certainty that he’ll win.
John Gallagher, Jr., the man under that mask, is slumming here, but if one suspects he signed on before getting his breaks in Short Term 12 and elsewhere, he gives no sign that he (rightly) believes he’s too good for the part. He taunts and sneaks and snarls when Maddie does something surprisingly clever, which is often. Though less novel than Flanagan’s previous pic, Oculus, Hush finds plenty of ways to flip roles in this cat-and-mouse game, letting his heroine get a bead on her stalker only to see the advantage taken away from her again.
Nighttime action is shot so darkly one wonders briefly how fruitful it would be to make this a true sensory-deprivation experience, with extended sequences offering only the silence Maddie hears, or the voices whispering in her head. But in a movie revolving completely around the desire of a voyeur to relish the presumed helplessness of his prey, how much fun would that be?
Venue: South By Southwest Film Festival (Midnighters)
Production companies: Intrepid Pictures, Blumhouse Productions
Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan
Director-editor: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriters: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Producers: Trevor Macy, Jason Blum
Executive producers: Michael J Fourticq Sr., Jeanette Brill, Kate Lumpkin, Couper Samuelson
Director of photography: James Kniest
Production designer: Elizabeth Boller
Composer: The Newton Brothers
Rated R, 81 minutes
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