As the film opens, Jackson Baring (Schaech) is taking his lover Helen
(Paltrow) home to Virginia from New York City for Christmas and to meet
his mother, Martha (Lange). The sprawling horse farm and imposing mansion
is a total surprise for Helen, and despite an embarassing first impression
(Martha finds her nude in Jackson's bed), the two women seem to get along.
Martha hopes that Jackson will move back home and revive their failing racehorse
business, but Jackson says no; he and Helen have their own life started
in the city. Though Martha doesn't hide her disappointment at the prospect
of selling the home she's known all her adult life, she tries to accept
their decision. But when Helen mysteriously gets pregnant (after Martha
sabotages her diaphragm), the couple get married and decide maybe it would
be best for all concerned if they moved to the farm, at least to bring it
back up to standard so that it can be sold for a profit.
As she spends the duration of her pregnancy on the farm, Helen begins
to notice that Martha wields an incredible power over her only son, and
she tries unsuccessfully to exert it on Helen, too. Befriended by Martha's
mother-in-law Alice (Nina Foch), who resides in a nursing home, Helen becomes
increasingly alarmed as Alice confides that although she seems sickeningly
sweet on the surface, Martha has more of an agenda than she shows. And indeed,
before the baby is born, Helen is literally running for her life.
It is hard to say whose performance is more stunning, between Paltrow
and Lange. The increasing sense of panic swelling inside Paltrow alongside
her baby is thick, almost tangible, as the two women's strained relationship
escalates from a few mysterious remarks to an all-out roller coaster ride.
Lange exudes sweetness and good intentions on the surface, and, until the
end, betrays her dark side only enough to make us squirm a little. One can
see the wheels turning in her mind throughout the film, but never can we
begin to predict exactly what she's up to.
With actors like these two, it wasn't hard for director Jonathan Darby to convey the ever-growing angst buried in the powerful script crafted by him and Michael Cristofer. And the setting is a perfect contrast to its sinister plot. Beautiful scenery and Andrew Dunn's sweeping cinematography combine to produce spectacular images of a sunny farm in rural Virginia, suggesting a quiet, pastoral feel. Once again, an excellent choice to balance Helen's awful struggle against the dark reaches of Martha's mind. After several decades of mother-in-law jokes in movies and TV, Hush takes it to where it's not even funny. ****
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