There’s still a few weeks of breathing room left for 2016 to surprise us with a year-defining trend, but barring an unexpected radical shift, I think it’s safe to call it The Year of the Confined Space Thriller. Between Green Room, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Invitation, Emelie, and Don’t Breathe, the year had already delivered enough efficient, violent thrillers with cramped locales to earn that distinction, but with this genre entry from horror director Mike Flanagan, 2016’s fate has essentially already been sealed. Like with Flanagan’s other modest budget genre works Oculus & Ouija: Origin of Evil, his confined space thriller Hush turns a straightforward, familiar formula into an exciting exercise in suspense-building & tone. Although it’s the only feature in that trio not to earn a proper theatrical release (Hush was distributed by Netflix), it’s just as enjoyable as anything else I’ve seen from the director. The worst you could say about Hush is that in a year crammed with excellent confined space thrillers this one is merely very good while being far from the best. It’s unfair to ding Flanagan for submitting a worthy entry into a flooded market, but we are certainly on the edge of being oversaturated with this particular genre this year, which makes it difficult for any films that traffics in that territory to stand out.
As far as standing out from its genre peers goes, Hush doesn’t do itself any favors in terms of plot. A home invasion thriller about a lone woman fighting off a mysterious male assailant, Hush resembles too many movies to count. Even its distinguishing details feel overly familiar. Our woman in peril protagonist is a novelist who writes the very same kind of plots she falls victim to; she even has Stephen King books lining her shelves & winking at the audience. The movie’s main conceit is that she is especially vulnerable to her attacker because she is deaf & mute, as hinted at in the film’s title. This is a slight deviation from films like See No Evil, Wait Until Dark, and Don’t Breathe, as blindness is typically the preferred handicap in this kind of genre territory, but it doesn’t stray too far from the usual blueprint, all things considered. There’s no real twists or surprises to the way Hush plays out; this is not coming from the same place as the much more experimental You’re Next. Instead, Hush survives on the strengths of its details. Because it’s a dialogue-light affair that frequently communicates through body & sign language, its muted soundscape sets a unique tone. The endangered novelist uses her talent for plotting to help decipher a possible way out of her plight. The slight smile on its killer’s fixed, stoic mask is a subtle nightmare. The film uses very brutal, but highly specific tools in its sudden bursts of intense violence: a kitchen knife, a hammer, a crossbow, a slammed door.
Nothing in Hush is especially surprising once you get a handle on what kind of story it wants to tell, but the film still impresses in its competence & efficiency. Considering the familiar ghost story territory of both Oculus & Origin of Evil, that competence seems to be Flanagan’s speciality. I’ve yet to fall madly in love with a single one of his films, but they’re all memorably enjoyable & well crafted. If someone were asking for examples of the greatest home invasion thrillers of all time, it’s doubtful that Hush would make many lists. If, however, someone were merely looking for a list of recent thrillers that were particularly well made, this one might deserve a nod. The only problem is that it happens to have a lot of company this year, maybe even too much for a crossbow or a creepy mask to give it a fighting chance.