For a short while, this family's life seems just slightly on the wrong side of normal; then the movie plunges headlong into the grotesque.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Under normal circumstances, "Hush" would have been just another Joan Crawford horror show. But when Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow are the principal players, circumstances are anything but normal. These women bring fierce intelligence to the twisted mother and her fast-thinking daughter-in-law. Because they play beautifully together, they turn a standard horror flick into a frightening psychological thriller about control.

With strong support from actor Johnathon Schaech and crystal clear direction by writer/director Jonathan Darby, these actresses build their characters layer upon layer until the final confrontation fairly rattles the rafters.

Jackson Baring (Johnathon Schaech) is bringing his girlfriend Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) home to meet Mom. Mom is Martha (Jessica Lange), and home is Kilronan, the Barings' ancestral horse-breeding farm. When Helen appears for church in a slightly irreverent black dress, Martha observes, "I envy your confidence." And so it goes in an escalating swirl of words, glances, and physical acts that offer up a new definition of domestic brutality.

Martha wants her boy to come home from New York to run the farm. As she makes a case for preserving "the oldest horse farm in the county" in the face of housing and golf-course developers, her lies drip with Southern syrup. She gets an unexpected assist from Helen, who decides that saving Kilronan would be a fine way to start married life with Jackson.

For a short while, this family's life seems just slightly on the wrong side of normal; then the movie plunges headlong into the grotesque. But Jessica Lange has so much credit in the public bank that it never slides into parody-at least not quite. Gwyneth Paltrow's Helen is intuitive and perceptive, an active force that spares the audience the overlong agony of watching a young innocent being victimized. Helen catches on to her mother-in-law fast. Doing something about it is another matter altogether.

The Southern Gothic elements pile up: a husband who died under mysterious circumstances, a son who blames himself for the death, the use of a girl as a vessel for a male heir for Kilronan. Martha's obsession with breeding thoroughbred horses and thoroughbred sons makes Kilronan a full character on its own. Someone should have told her that in a battle for the love of a son, the mother never wins.

The rural elegance of the Virginia horse farm is a jarring contrast to the melodrama unfolding in the house. The beauty of the place swathes everything with a sense of doom and isolation. If it weren't for the beautiful photography, lush settings, and first-rate cast, the movie would be the stuff of nightmares and video stores. But there's a possibility you may have a good time watching the heart-thumping war between two powerful women who fight over the heir to Kilronan. Paltrow and Lange are so good at whatever they do they might even have made "Baby Jane" work.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 489
Studio : TriStar
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h45m

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