What to watch this Halloween weekend?
Horror movie fans would be well served to cue up “Hush,” a taut psychological thriller streaming on Netflix.
Falling into the home-invasion and woman-in-peril subgenres, the 2016 film, clocking in at a lean 82 minutes, establishes its high concept early and never looks back.
Maddie (Kate Siegel), a talented young author who lost her abilities to speak and hear when she was a teen, has rented an isolated house in the woods to work on her latest novel. She is stalked by a masked sadist (“The Newsroom’s” John Gallagher Jr., playing against type) eager to engage in a bloody game of cat and mouse, although his prey proves less helpless than she initially seems.
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“Hush” shares DNA with the 1967 classic “Wait Until Dark,” in which Audrey Hepburn’s blind protagonist finds unexpected strength when forced to confront a trio of criminals who have entered her apartment. It also owes a psychic debt to 2002’s “Panic Room,” starring Jodie Foster and an adolescent Kristen Stewart. A more contemporary relative might be this summer’s sleeper hit “Don’t Breathe.”
But though elements of “Hush” may seem familiar, its pragmatism, inventiveness and propulsive energy make it distinctive. The film, directed by Mike Flanagan (known for his surprisingly potent 2013 haunted-mirror movie “Oculus”) cranks up the tension to a couch-gripping degree via an unrelenting series of attacks, escapes and unexpected reversals.
Featuring a handful of characters and a single house as its setting, “Hush” takes on the stirring intimacy of a chamber piece and benefits from strong performances by its two leads, and especially Siegel, who imbues her character with a vulnerable resilience.
Also elevating the genre material – and make no mistake, this is a genre film – is the movie’s sound design and how it relates to Maddie’s perceived disabilities. Flanagan shot several aural “close-ups” of diegetic sounds that work to heighten what Maddie is missing by being deaf. He also mutes the volume at just the right moments, effectively putting the viewer in Maddie’s shoes as she’s pursued by her crossbow-wielding stalker.
“Hush” has a 100 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After it debuted in April on Netflix, Stephen King tweeted: “How good is ‘Hush’? Up there with ‘Halloween.’ ... White knuckle time.”
One last word to the wise before watching “Hush”: It’s rated R, and while it has more on its mind than most slasher films, it features its fair share of splatter and gore, and isn’t appropriate for easily spooked trick-or-treaters of any age.
Streaming on Netflix