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Hush is psychologically intricate, boosted by good performances


Hush is one of those few films that means to entertain, and does to some degree. However, it also contains its fair share of problems, namely its unfortunate title. Originally titled "Kilronan" and "Bloodline" (both better titles than Hush), Hush is one of those films that will fail at the box office because of its name. It's got an appealing cast, but it seems that even that isn't enough to draw a crowd these days. Selecting a title that appeals to everyone is a difficult process, but we take it for granted. That is, until we hear a title like Hush, which makes you want to laugh at it.

However, nitpicking titles is not a critic's job, and so I will move on to bigger and better things. Hush is another entry in the genre that we thought died with The Good Son (has there been another "evil _______-in-law" film since that one?). Despite this, Hush is surprisingly effective, boasting good performances from the cast, and keeping it real enough to be semi-scary. Many films of this type fall into the cliched formula of beginning as a light drama, and then twisting (usually quickly) into a psychologically frightening film. Hush begins the same, but I was quite surprised at how smoothly the transition was. Instead of having the "evil" character do something completely evil that establishes them as the antagonist, Hush gives this character a background that explains what she does.

That character is Martha (Jessica Lange), and at first glance she seems normal enough. She loves her son Jackson (Johnathon Schaech), and her new daughter-in-law Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow). The film begins with Jackson taking Helen down to his mother's home, Kilronan, a large horse-farm. Jackson and Helen live in New York City, so the trip to the country is gladly welcomed. Helen is especially thankful for the warm hospitality she receives from Martha. Unfortunately, this hospitality begins to break down, as Helen becomes more aware of Martha's motives. And as is the tradition of all these films, no one believes Helen--except for one person: Alice (Nina Foch), Martha's mother-in-law. Of course, Alice happens to be in a nursing home, and no one believes her either. As the countless cliches come into order, the film begins to take on a life of its own. We know where it will go, but we don't know how it's going to get there. And as the film approaches its conclusion, we begin to wonder if it will follow in the grand tradition of this genre--a bloody shootout or fight between good and evil. It doesn't. Instead, it goes for a more psychological and realistic ending.

The difference between Hush and the countless other films of this genre is pretty basic: Hush maintains a level of believability. Whenever the characters do anything, it is usually upon instincts and not as a plot convention. These characters think for themselves, and sometimes it gets almost too real. There is one moment in Hush that scared me the most. It is a very small and seemingly insignificant moment, but it was startling nonetheless. It comes close to the end of the film. Martha enters the room of Helen, in order to do some evil deed to her, but she is startled by her son's presence. As she tries to convince him to leave the room and fails, she turns and pauses for a brief second. This pause is the moment. It occurred to me that this woman is not insane at all. She is fully rational, thinking everything out and planning her next move. It's amazing what a good performance can do for a role.

There are several problems with Hush, however. Most of them are rather apparent, but some lie in the details. While many critics complain about the Schaech character being too dumb for his own good, I think he is actually quite effective (I will explain later). The problem lies in the actual presentation of the story. Director Jonathan Darby isn't able to hold together a decent pace, making some scenes riveting, while others boring and dull. Overall, there are more scenes of the latter. Some include the preposterous, as when Helen and Jackson begin taking each other's clothes off in the middle of the hallway. Martha walks back in and stares at them. She smiles, and then walks back into her room. During another moment, I tried to remember if those steam machines had handles on them for cold water. I can't recall that they do. But mostly, Hush relies on a lot of coincidental plot tricks, as when Helen decides to check out the room above the barn ("The light was on..."). I would also like to know if the same medicine that is used for horses can be used for humans, or if that was just to move the plot along. I also noticed that one scene in the trailers of Hush was cut out of the film (The part involving the poison in the bathroom). But despite all these flaws, the cast does come through as fun and appealing.

Jessica Lange has proven to be quite a reliable actress. It seems that she excels at playing these crazy characters, although sometimes she'll give a bravura performance as in Blue Sky. This is probably one of her better performances, as she is very fun to watch. The only problem I can see is that the producers were trying to make her look more crazy than the character needed to be. I began to feel sorry for her character, even towards the end of the film. This isn't Lange's fault, as she gave a very good performance. Gwyneth Paltrow is also appealing in the cast, giving the film some emotional depth. As for Schaech, he surprisingly gives a decent performance. Other critics complain that his character is too slow to catch on, but I disagree. First, you have to put yourself in his position. You lived with your mother for years and years, but have only lived with your wife for a couple of years. Whom would you believe in this situation? Everything Lange does, Schaech is probably used to, and he doesn't think it is very strange. Another performance deserves to be noted, and that is by Nina Foch. Her wiseacre character is hilarious and adds a lot of humor that could have been used more throughout the film. She also provides the best line in the film ("I am answering, but you can't see my finger!"). A very good cast which is forced to plod through this uneven plot.

Hush is rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality and brief strong language. There is a brief glimpse of Paltrow naked, but it's very quick. There is a graphic description of how horse-breeders "help" the horses mate, though it's not as graphic as it could have been. Surprisingly, the language is nearly non-existent, though a few words (including on f-word) are rather harsh and unnecessary. While the screenplay and plot may not be original or very good, the cast does its best to make the film enjoyable. For the most part, they succeed. But sometimes, they fall victim to contrivance and coincidence, and that makes Hush a mild disappointment.

**1/2 out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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