People who don’t enjoy watching horror films often ask – “why would anybody watch something which is solely designed to terrify you?”
And it’s a good question. The answer seems to be that watching our worst nightmares play out on-screen has the potential to be cathartic, allowing us to purge ourselves of our own fear by experiencing nightmarish horrors through the mediating distance of a cinema screen (other viewing formats are available).
And crucially, being scared is exciting. When the adrenaline is pumping, when your heart is beating fast and loud, when all of your senses are sharpened and your whole body is on red alert, that’s when you feel most alive.
For those of us who enjoy being scared out of their wits, I cannot recommend Hush (2016) enough.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (who more recently made The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep), Hush is an unbelievably taut, slasher-tinged horror film which packs more heart-stopping moments of tension into its 87-minute runtime than should really be allowed.
In its opening shot, the film introduces us to a house in a woodland glade, where the entirety of the film unfolds. It’s a picturesque house, far away from anywhere and the ideal location for Maddie, an author with writer’s block, to peacefully while away the hours tapping at her laptop out on the porch. It’s also eerily isolated – the horror-clichéd cabin in the woods where nobody will hear you scream.
Early on, the film establishes that Maddie is deaf and unable to speak as a consequence of a childhood illness. This is efficiently and effectively achieved through a scene in which Maddie prepares dinner, with the film evoking her silent worldview by denying us the familiar noises we expect to hear as she cooks: the papery crunch of garlic being crushed, the sizzle of hot oil in a pan, the crisp slicing of an onion.
Flanagan handles all of this extremely skilfully, building up a picture of this character’s life entirely through visuals and sound design. It’s also refreshing that Maddie is not portrayed in any way as held back by her inability to speak or hear; she evidently lives a full and successful life which embraces these factors.
Things get stressful pretty quickly, though. Just 12 minutes into the film’s runtime, Maddie’s neighbour, Sarah, appears at her door, begging to be let in. As we watch, Sarah is pierced by a crossbow bolt before a man in a white mask emerges from the night and brutally stabs her to death. It’s sickening, but – unable to hear her screams – Maddie serenely continues to clear away her cooking utensils.
And just like that, a terrifying game of cat and mouse begins.
To say much more would take away from the film’s unbearable tension in which the viewer truly never knows what is going to happen next. Suffice to say, the violence is nasty and visceral, whilst the scenarios which play out are inventive and nerve-shredding. Kate Siegel (who co-wrote the film) gives her all in the central role, bringing a very real sense of grit and determination to Maddie, whilst John Gallagher Junior is genuinely frightening as her assailant.
In many ways, this is slasher horror at its most pure: a lean, high-concept premise fleshed out with just enough character work to make you root for the protagonist before they are plunged into a hell of sadistic danger and death.
And after you’ve watched it, if you’re anything like me, you’ll definitely be double-checking the doors are locked before you go to bed.
Hush is available to stream on Netflix.