Director: Jonathan Darby. Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange, Johnathon Schaech, Nina Foch, Hal Holbrook, Debi Mazar. Screenplay: Jonathan Darby and Jane Rusconi.

Hush, indeed. To this day, Jessica Lange, no shrinking violet in talking about her failures, rarely mentions Hush, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who will happily admit that her performance in, say, A Perfect Murder was not what it could have been, won't go near discussing this stinkeroo. The first half of Hush, which was previously to be called Bloodline, and before that Kilronan, seems unbelievably over-cooked; the second half, strangely enough, seems too restrained. No one figures out that the only way to make this material work is to make it a gleefully vulgar, bad-and-proud-of-it romp, like the Diabolique remake. Everyone in Hush seems just to want to get it over with, except for old Nina Foch, that warhorse from An American in Paris, who has the time of her life getting wheeled about sanitarium gardens and steam rooms dispensing Nasty Family Secrets. To future generations of little Paltrows, Hush will itself be a Nasty Family Secret, but at least they'll be able to see that Mama Gwynnie did what she could, and survived.

The plot is a bunch of uncomfortable nonsense about Jackson Baring (Johnathon Schaech) and his new girlfriend Helen (Paltrow), who drive from New York City to Jackson's family farm in Virginia so Helen can meet his mother. Jessica Lange, acting as Frances Farmer might have after her lobotomy, plays Martha, the manager and empress of the horse farm, a large, antebellum-looking estate called Kilronan. Martha is obsessed with breeding—in terms of social bearing, in terms of birthing foals, in terms of studding her strapping son with a fine-boned beauty who can produce the perfect grandson. After the next generation of Barings has arrived, the mother is expendable, and not only does Hush imply that Martha secretly punctures Helen's diaphragm to ensure a pregnancy, it actually shows her imprisoning Helen at home while she gives birth and attacking her with morphine-filled syringes. It's like Rosemary's Baby without the devil, and without Roman Polanski, and without a shred of credibility, even the kind that accompanies total suspension of disbelief. Why is Martha so thirsty for a grandson? Why is Jackson so ignorant of his mother's misdeeds? Why does the whole town, who all must know that Martha is crazy, nonetheless believe every stupid, obvious lie she tells to perpetuate her scheming?

And how desperate, exactly, was Gwyneth Paltrow to pay the rent when she took this part? To her credit, she turns in as sympathetic and believable a performance as is humanly possible in this bilge. Even the fact that she is visibly bored in the ostensible climax endears her to us; I felt like Gwyneth was secretly apologizing for the stupidity of her own movie, and doing her best to wrap it up speedily. All the same, the fundamental problem with Hush isn't even its plot, however absurd, but its failure to adopt the tone or the aesthetic that would pull it off. Writer-director Darby is weirdly addicted to slow aerial and tracking shots. His camera drifts as though it were a helium balloon, attempting to impart severe portentousness to images and objects he'd do better to flaunt as insipid. He also wastes everyone's time with sets, costumes, and panoramic establishing shots that attempt to convince you through fussily ornate details that you're observing some corner of a plausible human community. Unfortunately, it is so patently obvious that Hush transpires in an alien universe—where drugged pregnant women wake up after delivering to go tramping around toolsheds, and where lusty young men have sex with their girlfriends on the landings of ther onlooking mothers' master stairways—that all the location shots in the world fail to suggest the real world. The surest way to kill a demented potboiler is to take it so seriously.

Given how terrible Hush is, it should be more fun to watch. The best it can contribute to the Camp Canon is Lange, in full Blanche-DuBois-with-Rabies mode, demanding that Paltrow push harder while in labor, and Paltrow screaming back, "I am pushing, you bitch!." After several postponed release dates, Hush finally bowed in the spring of 1998, only eight months before the debut of Shakespeare in Love. I wonder if any star has ever appeared in a turkey as bad as Hush in the same year that they won an Oscar. Either way, I would love to see Lange and Paltrow appear together on a future project, by which time they might have forgotten they made this one, and so, hopefully, might I. Grade: D

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