Sometimes I watch a movie and it feels like the writer took the first simple premise that popped into their head, immediately pitched it to a producer without fleshing it out, and dusted their hands of the whole thing.
“Here’s my idea: it’s a home invasion movie, but, get this – the girl who lives in the house? She’s deaf.”
“Is that it?”
“Congrats, kid – you got yourself a picture! Here’s a check.”
I imagine everyone shaking hands afterwards and patting backs in a satisfied manner while wearing big, shit-eating grins. Movies!
Look, I get it: there’s not a hell of a whole lot you can do with the ‘home invasion’ idea. It’s like them damn paranormal/haunting movies – how many ways can you film “family moves into haunted house and ghostly stuff happens”? Not many. It’s a pretty straight-forward concept that’s been done to death, with every conceivable “a-ha!” angle applied to it. Unlike those ghost movies, however, which (can) have the benefit of wild visuals or supernatural goings-on, home invasion movies can’t help be painfully uncomplicated in their genetic make-up. At their most basic, it’s a single protagonist fending off a single intruder; at their most elaborate you’ll get the head of the house defending their family from a series of attackers.
Since these stripped-down movies leave little in the way of visuals to distract the viewers, it’s imperative to have fully realized characters and damn good actors portraying them in order to be successful (see: powerful, emotional, meaty). These movies are essentially stage plays (few actors, single location), and any audience member who has had to sit through three hours of two actors on one stage can tell you: powerful performances from top-notch talent are what sell the production.
Hush, a movie about a deaf woman at the mercy of a home invader, has the “a-ha!” premise down, but not much else going for it. I mean, just look at the plot description on Wikipedia – it’s literally one sentence.
And look: this isn’t the first time we’ve seen “stalker hunts person with major disability”. Though blindness seems to preferred handicap (See No Evil, Jennifer 8, Blink, Cat o’ Nine Tails), we’ve already seen a deaf woman stalked (Hear No Evil, starring Marlee Matlin, who is actually hearing-impaired) and everything from mute witnesses (Mute Witness) to people with agoraphobia (Copycat). This is a well-trodden trope used in a genre already at a disadvantage. Like I said: well-defined characters and solid performances are a must.
To be fair, actress Kate Siegel (who co-wrote the script with Hush director Mike Flanagan – who also happens to be her husband *cough*nepotism*cough*) does a decent job playing ‘Maddie’. Sure, Siegel may not really be deaf, and it’s probably the least challenging thing you could do as an actor, but I’m fairly easily impressed – and seeing her do a bit of fluid sign language, well, it impressed me. Again, this is probably the least amount of work an actor has to do next to “coma patient”, but at least she doesn’t fudge it up beyond all repair.
Perhaps more injurious than its overly basic premise, Hush suffers from jumping into the action a little too quickly. Within the first five minutes of the movie, we’re given every relevant bit of info we need for the entire runtime of the movie: characters (including a nonessential ex-love interest who is only seen in avatar form and only mentioned once), their motivations, family drama – Hell, we’re even handed Chekov’s Gun. And get this: we even find out why Maddie is deaf, not that it matters. (It’s even brought up again at the end of the movie, for some reason.) With all the exposition taken care of, the movie eagerly gets right to the cat and mouse stuff – but with no other story developments to make along the way, the movie feels drawn out, even at only 81 minutes.
Our stalker (played by 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s John Gallagher Jr.) has his reasons, apparently (at least he sort of alludes that he might), but we never find out what they are. And that’s fine, but remember: this movie felt the need to mention twice why Maddie went deaf.
Considering Maddie spends most of her time online (she’s an author), and considering the need to mention this ex-boyfriend of hers early on, I thought it might turn out that our Masked Killer was perhaps a jilted fan or dating website romance gone wrong (we also find out within the first five minutes of the movie that Maddie has perused a ‘deaf singles’ website, looking for guys in her area). But no, nothing like that. We learn absolutely nothing about Masked Killer – not even his name, obviously.
Had Hush taken its time with the info it revealed – helping to create a more complex character in Maddie or Masked Killer – the movie would’ve been far more interesting. But it’s so impatient in getting to the conflict that all we’re left with is a movie which, in the end, needs only a single sentence to sum it up.