One of my favorite films out of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival was Mike Flanagan’s home invasion thriller, Hush, which pits a deaf and mute author (played by Kate Siegel) against a lunatic who has trapped her inside her home and will stop at nothing until she’s dead.

While at the fest last month, Daily Dead had the opportunity to sit and chat about Hush with Flanagan as well as co-writer/star Kate Siegel and producers Jason Blum and Trevor Macy. The quartet chatted about their respective approaches to the project, how to keep things fresh story-wise, the importance of sound design, and much more. Check out highlights from our in-depth interview with the team behind Hush and look for the film on Netflix beginning this Friday, April 8th.

I really, really loved what you guys did with this movie. We've seen countless home invasion movies before, but this didn't feel like it retreaded anything we've seen before. Mike and Kate, talk about your approach to the script, especially since you have unique challenges story-wise with the character of Maddie.

Mike Flanagan: Oh, yeah. We started it because we were out at dinner, talking about movies we loved and the kind of movies we wanted to make. We both were talking about Wait Until Dark and how cool that was. Then, [to Kate] do you want to talk about the face in the window bit?

Kate Siegel: I always had a reoccurring fear of this idea that at night you walk by a window and what would happen if you saw a face looking back at you? Sometimes it'll even happen at night if you catch your own reflection. I've always wanted to investigate that idea—what it would be like if you think you're alone, but you're not. Then, by the time we had dessert, we had a rough outline of the type of movie we wanted to make, which was to take a home invasion thriller and add that one extra level of a woman who can't hear what's happening or communicate verbally. We thought that added something else to the overall home invasion idea.

Jason and Trevor, from the producing side of things, what did you guys recognize in the script that made you say, "Yeah, we definitely want to get involved with this?"

Trevor Macy: Initially the draw was being able to work with Mike, who we have both worked with a couple of times. Jason and I have made movies together before, so we have a strong idea of the projects we like to get involved with. And as you say, we found the concept of Hush to be pretty fresh. I didn't want to retread The Strangers and this felt much, much different.

Jason Blum: We both found it really unique. The idea of a movie with almost no dialogue was both compelling and scary at the same time, which was fun for me because it's a fun type of challenge and I’m always up for making films that have a certain challenge to them.

Mike Flanagan: That was one of the things I really wanted to do from the beginning: something without dialogue. A lot of my early stuff, my student movies, was nothing but dialogue. I’ve realized that dialogue is the easiest way to tell a story. Movies are special because it's a visual medium and you don't really get to explore a purely visual medium very often.

That was something I was really excited about from the beginning. There was a sense with all of us that it could go either way. Audiences are so trained to be told a story, even when it's a visual experience like a movie. We didn't really know how it was going to go at first. It's a scary thing to be like, "We're going to take away half of her tools as an actor and then ask her to carry a movie.”

But we brought this project to them when it was just like, “This is what the movie could be,” when it was really just this germ of an idea. It was like, “Here are the selling points of the movie: it only has a tiny number of characters. Nobody's really talking, so it's going to be a lot of silence. Kate and I are going to write it together, and Kate's going to star.” I was always incredibly grateful that these guys were like, "Yes, that sounds really cool. That could be great." A lot of people would have turned us down.

Jason Blum: I’d definitely say that for Hush, the selling point was Mike. Maybe there are one or two filmmakers who, if they had this idea too and they wanted to do it, we would've done it. In most cases, I never would've done the movie. But Mike said to us, "I love this idea. It's going to be really scary," and basically, if he says that about anything, we know to listen.

Kate, because you were involved in this project from the script stage, did that give you more insight into Maddie from an acting perspective?

Kate Siegel: Oh, yes. It was really great to create her from the ground up with Mike, especially knowing that it was going to be such a challenge to take away her dialogue and ability to make sound in general. We wanted to build in deep character work that could be expressed, making sure the people she interacted with, although just a handful, were there to bolster this woman that viewers are supposed to care about. When she's in danger, in order to maintain that tension over the third act, you have to care that this is happening to someone who cannot speak to you and really can't connect in ways that most people connect.

It was a really fun journey from page to screen, because at some point I had to just put down the writer hat and be like, “That's done, it's on the page, and now I have to figure out how to bring what we wrote to life with this character.”

Mike Flanagan: The movie falls on your shoulders in a way that if it was off a little bit, you would lose the character along the way. I'm definitely as proud of this movie as any movie I've ever done. A movie is so delicate and you never know how it’s going to go. On paper, this movie shouldn't work as well as it works.

The choice to make Maddie deaf and mute puts a lot of her emotional experience on the front of her face. She's a woman who's isolated by two groups. Someone who becomes deaf at 13 doesn't have the experience of growing up with the deaf community and someone who becomes deaf at 13 loses the hearing community that she once had. That’s why she isolates herself in the first place.

Kate Siegel: One of the things that my coach helped me with—and I've read a couple of books—is that when you become deaf, you lose the concept of the sounds that your body makes; how loud you are when you're walking, things like that. I would just imagine her constantly being afraid that she was too much in the space. When things started happening to her, it was very much in the front of her mind. She's lost a sense of constant feedback from people around her. For Maddie, who's been alone for so long, she has no sense of being judged by any audience and so her emotions just flow out purely.

I just want to take a moment and tip my hat to John Gallagher Jr. and his work in Hush; he’s such a great villain and adds a lot to the film.

Mike Flanagan: He's such an unexpected villain. In all of his other work, he's just a funny, quirky, charming, sweet guy and that’s what made him so attractive for this project. In that moment when the mask comes off, you could imagine the most horrific and vicious killer in the world and then it's like, “Oh, no. It's the sweet guy from The Newsroom. Oh, crap.” He really wanted to do it, to play against type. He said that when he first read the script, he was reading it and going, "This is great. I love this. I wonder when my character shows up."

It took him almost to the end of the script and he had to email his manager and be like, "Wait, so am I the neighbor?" His manager said, "No, they want you to be the man.” So he was just so happy to put away that image and really dive into a villain role. It was very exciting for all of us. Plus, he was so deeply unsettling to look at. In that scene when he takes off the mask, Maddie is expecting some kind of monster, but he does it with such grace that it throws her off. It's almost like a dance move. When she sees that, she sees that this man isn't a monster, this man is a psychopath who looks like the rest of us.

One last thing I want to talk about is the sound in Hush. A lot of people don’t really appreciate that component of post-production and it is so integral to this movie.

Mike Flanagan: And to all horror movies, really. Sound design is such a critical component. Typically when you do it, you want to use sound design in a very specific way, to enhance the story in a way that doesn't call attention to itself. We had to put all the attention on the sound design because it was going to carry large stretches of the movie alone. We like to say that our sound designer and mixer, Jonathan Wales, is like another cast member who just isn't on-screen.

But watching the movie prior to the sound design and after are completely and wildly different experiences. When we were first looking at the rough cuts in post, it was like, "Yeah, this movie's okay." Then, we got on the mix stage and with the amount of layers it became something so much more. You wouldn’t believe the work that went into the most seemingly simple moments, like crickets and footsteps; it was incredible. There were 300 layers of different sounds at times and you wouldn’t believe the work that had to be put in to achieve “silence.” Jonathan took this movie to another level.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.