When you think about it, there aren’t really that many disabled people in horror films. Racking my brains, I can only come up with a few examples – the sideshow performers in the 1932 film Freaks, the deaf kid who had his head blown up by Freddy Kreuger and the kid in the wheelchair in the second Friday the 13th film who got a machete to the face and shot down the world’s longest set of steps. I mention this because I recently watched a new horror film, Hush, which used the main character’s disability to offer one of the freshest takes on a somewhat stilted genre.
The film follows Maddy (Kate Siegel), an author who was rendered both deaf and mute after an illness. In her secluded home in the middle of the woods, she is stalked by a psychotic killer (John Gallagher Jr.), who is eager to play a game of cat and mouse with his handicapped victim before slaughtering her. The ingredients here are not anything particularly new – indeed, they are standard horror fare – but the craftsmanship here is evident, and it raises it above your average horror picture.
Your typical slasher has a cast of expendable people, there solely to be butchered (there is a very good amount of gore, though, if that’s what gets you going) – excusing a couple of scenes, Hush is pretty much a two-man show. It helps, then, that both our villain and our heroine are very well-played (although I found it a touch annoying that our killer’s motivation was sketchy at best). The highlight is Kate Siegel, though – the viewer can’t help but warm to Maddy, fearing for her in a way few horrors manage to achieve. Maddy being mute means that she needs to convey a lot through her expressions and her actions, and she does it with aplomb. She helps fashion the character into a likeable and sensible presence who you will to survive (another horror rarity!).
Now, obviously a large part of the film is that Maddy is deaf, and that factors into the horror quite considerably (as Maddy thinks to herself at one point, the killer has a substantial advantage because he can hear her coming). This is especially true earlier in the film – the early scenes in which the killer stalks Maddy are more terrifying because we, as viewers, know what she does not. It helps to ratchet up the fear factor – she does not know where the killer is or where he is hiding, and it ups the tension without relying on the cliché of jump scares building up to nothing, with a couple of scenes almost muting the sound to truly put you in the place of our protagonist.
Another consequence of this is the film has little dialogue – it relies on performance and the sound to tell you what is going on, and I found it more engrossing as a result. It forces the viewer to focus on the film world, with the natural soundscape more effective than excessive bassy music (a lot of quiet breathing interrupted by the impact of a crossbow bolt, for example, is far more shocking than music screaming ‘something’s gonna happen’).
At a snappy runtime of 80 minutes, this film is well paced, mixing moments of action and tension-building to build a solid horror experience for the viewer (the director, Mike Flanagan, is best known for evil mirror flick Oculus, another example of his dab hand constructing a horror and ratcheting up the scares gradually). Now, I don’t in any respect think it’s a masterpiece, nor will it be the kind of film that’ll keep you thinking long after you’ve watched it, but it is a well-done horror that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: John Gallagher Jr. (Man), Kate Siegel (Maddie), Michael Trucco (John), Samantha Sloyan (Sarah)
Running Time: 81 Mins