I've long held the belief that home invasion is a shared fear. It probably has roots in our territorial evolutionary heritage. Or maybe it's just because our house is where we keep all our shit. I don't know the exact reason why and frankly I don't care because the truth is, we all lock our doors at night. We all become immediately suspicious when the motion-triggered lights in the backyard come on while we're lying in bed. Our house is our home and our home is OUR home. Uninvited guests are (obviously) not welcome.
We feel safe behind our walls. We feel comfort when we click the locks on the windows, even though, when you think about it, what good is a quarter inch of glass against someone out to do you harm? All the dead bolts, security systems and casement windows… they're all just placebos. We're never really safe. Anyone could get in if they really wanted to and THAT, Dear Reader, is the subconscious reality that powers a good home invasion film.
Notice I said “good home invasion film”. Most of these films are too formulaic and cliched to ever really achieve power. They mostly go like this. An individual, usually a woman, is home alone. There will be a significant other or friend either on the way over or wanting to be on the way over. The killer will arrive, sometimes more than one, and cause some havoc. After awhile, the significant other or friend will pop on over for a visit and get killed. The action will largely consist of two to four attempts to escape, only to end up back inside the house for the ending.
That's the typical home invasion film. HUSH, a movie about a young deaf mute writer being terrorized by a killer, plays largely by these conventions, straying momentarily every now and then to bolster the shock value of the material. It's clearly influenced by WAIT UNTIL DARK, the Terence Young classic about a blind Audrey Hepburn harassed and threatened by drug dealers. There's a bit of THE STRANGERS in there too with a wink and a nod to Bustillo and Maury's INSIDE, the infamous French cartoon-gorefest. Everything about the film, you've seen somewhere else. This isn't going to win any awards for originality.
But that's fine. I have also long held the belief that “original” is overrated. Fact is, people don't want new and fresh, they want comfortable and familiar. They just want it done better than it was the last time. So we keep getting romantic comedies, each one a little more earnest than the next. We keep getting action films, each one a bit louder than the next. And we keep getting home invasion films, each one a bit more… I don't know. To be honest, the sub-genre kinda peaked with ILS, the absolutely amazing shocker directed by Xavier Palud and David Moreau. It's the HALLOWEEN of home invasion movies, a purely cinematic experience that utilizes depth of field, open framing and carefully choreographed bits of explosive tension to really get under your skin and stay there.
HUSH doesn't quite have what it takes to be as remarkably engaging as ILS. It feels like a short film padded out to feature length, with a pacing that can never really get revving up because it feels the need to drown us in scene after scene of Maddie, the deaf mute writer, looking out a window at the murderous unnamed antagonist (aka the Man) as he just walks around the lawn looking spooky. It makes the mistake of thinking that Maddie's condition is enough to earn our sympathy and that an early-in-the-film murder committed by the Man is enough to earn our fear. These characters spend nearly the entire movie separated by window pane after window pane. And while I'm well aware of what I said earlier, by the 40 minute mark, all the potential fear of things going south by way of a single rock to that window turns into a growling sense of procrastination on the part of the filmmakers.
By the time the obligatory friend shows up to check on Maddie, I was pretty damn close to checking out. Then the film did something I didn't expect it to do.
It got good.
Real good, in fact. The final 15 minutes of HUSH are so good, I almost forgave it for being such a waste of potential. And yes, that's largely what this film is, a waste of potential. Mike Flanagan knows how to direct a film. There are moments here that are incredibly suspenseful, even outright scary. But it is just so unevenly paced that none of that suspense is sustained. The performances are top shelf, too. I just wish the protagonist (played by Kate Siegel) was half as interesting a character as the films villain. John Gallagher Jr.'s performance is spot on, creating one of the most interesting sociopathic killers I've seen in quite some time. But that's another problem. I cared far more about the actions of the killer than I did about the fate of the protagonist.
I think the single strongest aspect of HUSH is its simplicity. That's something missing from a lot of these films. The simple premise of a home invasion can carry a film far. It doesn't need to be a tarted up survival-action film like YOU'RE NEXT. It doesn't need to be an over-the-top, masturbatory Grand Guignol freakshow like INSIDE. The primal fear lurking behind the home invasion film is enough. Like in ILS and THE STRANGERS, the killer here is a motive-free entity. The protagonist is a (somewhat) sympathetic character. All the film had to do was sustain the conflict between those two characters. If it did that, the suspense would have stayed constant and pervasive.
Unfortunately, all the dead weight sank the ship around the 40 minute mark. I lost interest. A great final 15 minutes doesn't make up for that. With a bit more editing (or a pushing of the home invasion material to later in the script), this could have been a new horror classic.