Review: ‘Hush’

A trashy melodramatic thriller about an evil mom preying upon her vulnerable pregnant daughter-in-law, "Hush" is gussied up by its classy distaff cast members, but remains trashy all the same.

A trashy melodramatic thriller about an evil mom preying upon her vulnerable pregnant daughter-in-law, “Hush” is gussied up by its classy distaff cast members, but remains trashy all the same. Grossly implausible on the levels of elementary logic and storytelling, this risible concoction nonetheless manipulates emotions relating to family ties, motherhood and babies in ways that could conceivably induce the currently vaunted young female audience to overlook its deficiencies and turn out in sizable numbers for the first weekend or two.

Tossing stale morsels from Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” just for starters, into the ill-tasting stew, first-time feature helmer and co-writer Jonathan Darby is clearly out to arouse the primal instincts of viewers, and women in particular, on his way to a cathartic comeuppance scene in which the demented mother gets her just desserts.

Unfortunately, almost everything about the film is so unbelievable and misjudged that only the most gullible audiences will feel any transporting thrill at the end other than from the movie finally being over.

Opening half-hour of setup is even more banal than need be. Good-looking Jackson Baring (Johnathon Schaech) brings his good-looking live-in girlfriend Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) home for Christmas to meet Mom for the first time. In his case, home is a fabulous Kentucky horse farm called Kilronan, and Mom is Martha (Jessica Lange), a chatty, somewhat overbearing widow who would clearly like nothing more than for her only child to live with her in perennial togetherness at the grand estate.

In short order, Helen gets pregnant (a looming and, it seems, damaged diaphragm receives its own ominous close-up), she and Jackson marry (a good six months later, although she doesn’t look the least expectant at the wedding) and, after Helen is attacked and frighteningly sliced up a bit by a masked intruder, the couple decide to return to Kilronan to have the baby and spiff the place up with an eye to selling it.

As soon as they arrive, Martha takes charge in weird ways, advising her son to lay off sex with his wife during her pregnancy, informing Helen that a fetus she aborted prior to having Jackson had “abnormalities,” instructing the local obstetrician (Hal Holbrook) how the birth is to be handled, and forbidding the younger woman from seeing Jackson’s invalid but sharp-as-a-tack paternal grandmother Alice (Nina Foch).

Feeling increasingly harassed by Martha, Helen defiantly befriends the old gal, who dishes the dirt about Martha’s sordid past and twisted lies, particularly as they relate to the death of Jackson’s father, which, per Alice, was not as “accidental” as Martha has always maintained.

Script contrives to remove Jackson to Churchill Downs, which gives Martha the chance to induce Helen’s labor with some equine-strength Oxytocin and preside over a particularly grotesque home birth, an event ludicrously intercut with a thoroughbred horse race. Next-day denouement, in which Helen gets her chance to take revenge upon Martha for all her conniving, is far-fetched enough without the un-commented-upon background detail of the newborn baby having gone some 24 hours at this point without eating.

But it’s that kind of movie, one in which, in an escape attempt, a very pregnant Helen bounces all over the countryside in a van, then runs barefoot up and down hills, and in which some crucial lies that Martha has told her son could easily be disproved by old newspaper articles.

In her first villainous role, Lange starts out playing a woman who at first seems like kin to Blanche DuBois, mutates for awhile into Regina Giddens and ends like the wicked witch of the bluegrass. Actress jumps in head first, but the extremes of the part are sufficient to defeat any attempt to create a coherent characterization.

Paltrow is blankly sympathetic enough to function effectively as a repository of viewer identification, while Schaech, looking strikingly like Peter Gallagher at times, is serviceable as the proverbial man torn between two women. Brightest moments come from Foch, who is a delight as the crafty, plain-talking family outcast.

While direction is mediocre in terms of visual coverage, staging and rhythm, film has a technical sheen thanks to Andrew Dunn’s warm lensing, Thomas A. Walsh and Michael Johnston’s handsome production design and the lush Orange County, Virginia, locations, standing in for Kentucky.

Hush

(Thriller --- Color)

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar Pictures presentation of a Douglas Wick production. Produced by Wick. Co-producer, Ginny Nugent. Directed by Jonathan Darby. Screenplay, Darby, Jane Rusconi, story by Darby.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Andrew Dunn; editors, Dan Rae, Lynzee Klingman, Robert Leighton; music, Christopher Young; production design, Thomas A. Walsh, Michael Johnston; art direction, James Truesdale; set design, Easton Michael Smith; set decoration, Michael Seirton; costume design, Ann Roth; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Jay Meagher; assistant directors, Carla Corwin, Thomas Davies; second unit camera, Alec Hirschfeld; casting, Heidi Levitt, Billy Hopkins. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, March 3, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 min.

With

Martha Baring - Jessica Lange Helen - Gwyneth Paltrow Jackson Baring - Johnathon Schaech Alice Baring - Nina Foch Lisa - Debi Mazar Sister O'Shaughnessy - Kaiulani Lee Gavin - David Thornton Dr. Hill - Hal Holbrook
Camera (Technicolor), Andrew Dunn; editors, Dan Rae, Lynzee Klingman, Robert Leighton; music, Christopher Young; production design, Thomas A. Walsh, Michael Johnston; art direction, James Truesdale; set design, Easton Michael Smith; set decoration, Michael Seirton; costume design, Ann Roth; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Jay Meagher; assistant directors, Carla Corwin, Thomas Davies; second unit camera, Alec Hirschfeld; casting, Heidi Levitt, Billy Hopkins. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, March 3, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 min.

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