Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hush (Front Street/Hush/Lifetime, 2005)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran an old movie from Lifetime I’d recorded onto DVD two years ago: Hush, a 2005 production starring Tori Spelling as Nina Hamilton, a San Francisco native and children’s book author and illustrator (her most successful productions feature Tess the Cat, a character based on her own pet) who’s married to a doctor who came from a small town called Mill Crossing (which I believe was supposed to be in Washington state — a lot of Lifetime movies are set in Washington state so Vancouver, British Columbia can “play” the location on screen) and who, as the movie begins — following a shadowy prologue and a title reading, “Ten Years Later” (a lot of Lifetime movies begin with a shadowy prologue and a title indicating that the main part of the film takes place some time later, but ten years is a long jump even for them!), and we meet Nina and her doctor husband Noah (Tahmoh Penikett, who has a rather long, homely face but a nice bod — we get a couple of scenes in which we get to glimpse his hairless chest and, quite frankly, that was one of the big reasons I wanted to see this film!) at a fertility clinic whose head, Dr. Berke (played by an actor named Hiro Kanagawa who looks only mildly Asian, despite his name), had just made nationwide headlines by helping one woman give birth to quintuplets. Alas, the Hamiltons’ attempts at in vitro fertilization haven’t gone anywhere nearly so well: when the film open she’s down to six embryos and four have just been implanted in her, but shortly after she and her husband move to Mill Crossing (and there’s been a sign of hope when she throws up twice in one morning … ), she uses the restroom in the local diner and her menstrual period starts in the restroom stall, much to her chagrin.

She’s helped by the counterperson, Callie (Victoria Pratt), who turns out to be the villain of the piece: she’s Noah’s ex-girlfriend and they used to just “play around” until one night, up in a tower to which Callie had bootlegged the key, they did the down ’n’ dirty and, in one of moviedom’s most infuriating clichés, the infallible pregnancy at a single contact kicked in — only with Noah disinclined to marry Callie, she ended up having an abortion and, rather than risk anyone in town finding out and adding yet another item to their long list of things to gossip about Callie over, Noah the doctor-in-residency did the abortion himself. Callie has never forgiven him and, when he and Nina move to Mill Crossing, she soon learns that they’re childless, that Callie has just two embryos left in cold storage after her last fertility attempt, and they’re planning to try again but Noah has persuaded Nina to settle in town before she risks the rigors of yet another chancy pregnancy attempt. We’ve already been told that those are the only embryos that can be created from Noah’s and Nina’s DNA because the doctor said it would be too risky to try to extract any more eggs out of her — and we’re shortly given the answer to the question we’ve been asking all movie, namely, why don’t they give up trying to procreate on their own and adopt? Nina makes that very suggestion and Noah responds in a rage, saying that he doesn’t want an adoptive child because his own father died young and therefore he was denied the joy of having people look at him and point out the ways in which he resembled his parents (though he resembled his dad enough that he’s already the third-generation doctor in his family and his grandfather is making plans to pass the practice to him the way he would have to his dad had his dad lived). Callie befriends Nina to worm her way into her confidence, then steals Nina’s I.D. and goes out to San Francisco, poses as Nina and gets herself implanted with Nina’s two remaining embryos — and when Nina and Noah discover this, the film abruptly turns into a weird offtake of The Great Lie, with Nina and Noah inviting Callie to move in with them and the two women striking an uneasy peace since one of them is carrying the other’s baby.

Of course, this being Lifetime it can’t let the melodrama pot just stay on simmer; it starts boiling over when Callie clubs to death Dell Carter (Gabrielle Rose), the local realtor, who refused to give Callie a job as an agent, and it really explodes when Callie lets slip to Nina’s mother Florence (a nice sympathetic-older-woman role by Susan Hogan) that she’s waiting for the father of her baby to divorce his wife and send her back to San Francisco, and Florence unwittingly seals her own doom by telling Callie that she’s allergic to peanuts — whereupon Callie immediately whips up a sponge cake with peanut oil, serves some to Florence and then boosts Florence’s emergency medication from her purse and dangles it teasingly in front of her as she expires from her deathly allergy. (As if ripping off The Great Lie wasn’t enough, writers Steven Frank and Julie Ferber Frank — a married couple, one assumes from the names, which makes a viewer wonder whether they have any children and, if so, how were they conceived: the fun way, or those other ways? — stole from another Bette Davis vehicle, The Little Foxes, as well.) The finale is a fight to the finish between Nina and Callie, who’s finally given birth to a baby girl and threatens to kill the baby if Nina tries to take her; in order to try to get her to lay off, Noah pretends to club Nina with a fireplace poker (or was it a tire wrench, I wasn’t sure) and, when Callie sees through Noah’s trick, she stabs him and leaves him writhing on the floor (given that the other doctor in town is his old grandfather and he’s collapsed, one wonders who’s going to give Noah the medical attention he needs) and Nina, her adrenalin spiked by Callie’s threat to kill the child, rushes her on the stairs and kills her with the sheer force of the blow.

At time the Franks’ script, directed with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Harvey Kahn, makes me wish for the relative restraint of Christine Conradt, and the film is full of plot holes — like why Callie’s previous campaign of terror (she not only knocks off Tess, Nina’s cat ­— ya remember Nina’s cat? — she also kills Dell Carter, and one wonders why no one from whatever sort of police department Mill Crossing has is bothering to investigate the death of a woman found fatally clubbed in a field) hasn’t attracted the attention of the authorities, though one thing the filmmakers did get right (kudos to casting directors Susan Taylor Brouse and Lynne Carrow) is that Tori Spelling and Victoria Pratt look enough alike to make it believable that the personnel at a fertility clinic (aside from Dr. Berke, who’s not in the office when Callie comes in) could implant one’s in vitro fertilized embryos into the other — even though the first time we notice the resemblance the question we’re asking is, “What is this? Is Noah only attracted to this one specific body type of woman?” What makes Hush watchable (aside from those nice shots of Tahmoh Penikett’s chest) is Victoria Pratt’s bad-girl performance; for all the histrionics they put the good people through, Lifetime’s writers and directors do manage to make their villains surprisingly subtle at times, and this is one of those times — we really believe in Callie as put-upon counterperson stuck in a small town whose mild transgressions get her in far more trouble than she deserves, and for all the sillinesses of the Franks’ script they do a good job peeling back the layers of the onion until we see the psychotic evil of Callie’s character.