Zakes (Will Ash) drives through torrential rain along the M1 one evening, fulfilling his part-time job of replacing posters in service station toilets. Much to her vexation, his girlfriend Beth (Christine Bottomley) has been dragged along for the ride.
After squabbling over Zakes' "slacker" attitude and his lack of commitment - it's over a year since the couple talked about moving in together and he's been dragging his heels ever since - a white lorry overtakes them. As Beth sleeps, the lorry's shutters bounce up momentarily and Zakes catches a glimpse of what he believes to be a naked woman in the back, screaming from within a cage.
He pulls up behind the truck when they stop in a motorway queue. Zakes wakes the napping Beth, telling her what he thinks he's just seen. She encourages him to ring the police on her mobile telephone. Zakes leaves an (unintentionally) amusingly vague message with the cops, and then gets out of his car on Beth's instruction to investigate the truck more closely.
Unable to see anything suspect, Zakes inches Beth's mobile 'phone into the narrow opening at the back of the lorry and takes a photograph of whatever may be in the back. Unable to make out the nature of the photograph, Zakes retires back into his car intent on following the lorry.
However, when he reaches the slip road leading to the last service station on his poster schedule, Zakes pulls in and tells Beth the woman in the truck is "not their problem". Beth is suitably disgusted with her boyfriend's self-centred nature and storms off into the service station's cafe, where she concludes that enough is enough: their relationship is over. She calls her friend Sarah and explains how she's dumping Zakes, possibly prompted by the fact that she copped off with Sarah's brother Leo the night before ...
But, after putting fresh posters up in the service station's rest rooms, Zakes notices the white lorry pull up on the forecourt outside. He also realises that the photo he took in the back of the lorry was actually of a female's hand - and so he rushes to find Beth ... but she's vanished.
Watching the lorry slowly pull away, Zakes becomes convinced that Beth is now in the back. His attempts to enlist the help of two unfriendly security guards are to no avail and, likewise, Zakes' bid to involve the police backfires on him in spectacular fashion. What's more, a bunch of drunken football fans have let the tyres of his car down.
All of which means Zakes must steal a car and pursue the lorry on his own, if he ever wants to see Beth alive again ...
The first bit of advice to give about HUSH is that it's a film you should persevere with. It's short, snappy and supremely effective in the cat-and-mouse thriller stakes ... but stick with it.
Why? Because the first ten minutes are by far it's weakest. The script here is clunky and unconvincing, while the acting - especially from Ash - is horrible. It all looks very nice and polished, but I still fear some may switch off prematurely during the opening salvo.
But don't, because once Beth goes missing, everything falls marvellously into place.
ROAD GAMES, THE VANISHING, BREAKDOWN, ROADKILL, DUEL ... HUSH is almost certainly heavily indebted to these films in terms of concept and execution. Indeed, it could be viewed upon as being a veritable cut-and-paste identikit comprising of top scenes and plot points from these films, along with a slew of 70s British-based shockers and Hitchcockian flourishes.
But if the film is not remotely original, then so what? What it lacks in innovative screenwriting, it makes up for with sheer panache.
The thing that makes HUSH so pleasurable is its pace, its unrelenting tension. Fine, it dispenses with logic on several occasions and there are moments when the audience are required to seriously suspend their disbelief. Also, it must be said that attempted 'twists' in the tail are very hackneyed - and therefore predictable. But these factors are par for the course with almost all contemporary horror-thrillers, so it would seem unjust to single out HUSH for a chastising along these lines.
What is more pertinent is whether the film's action is strong enough to overcome any 'silliness' inherent in the screenplay. The answer is a resounding "yes it is".
From a wonderfully eerie sequence in an elderly couple's remote farmhouse, which echoes 'Hammer House of Horror', to the suspense exuded while Zakes hides from the trucker beneath his lorry: this is an expertly crafted horror show, utilising economic devices (small cast, simple story, exterior locations) and a threadbare script to maximum effect.
The simple fact is that HUSH is a fast-paced thrill ride with plenty of chases and taut set pieces, squeezing formidable mileage out of countless creepy wanders in the dark. They are scenes that we've all seen before, but perhaps not delivered so deftly for quite some time.
HUSH is also a strikingly shot film filled with handsome compositions, fluid camerawork and well-lit set pieces certain to please the eye. Beyond those, Victoria Boydell's editing is rigid and brisk while writer-director Mark Tonderai's debut efforts have produced a lean, mean bastard of a film that - once it gets going - never lets up.
The traits of a fledgling filmmaker are admittedly evident, such as the handheld camerawork spying on Beth and Zakes 'Law And Order'-style as their relationship collapses in the service station. It's arguably unnecessarily stylised given the film's overall feel and theme. Tonderai clearly wants to show us what he's capable of. And why not? Crucially, he manages to do it without intruding on his own storytelling. It's a balance that few young directors achieve, so kudos to Tonderai for finding that equilibrium.
Story-wise, the motivations of the protagonists are not always clear. The trucker's use for his female victims is never divulged, while the early dynamics of the relationship between Zakes and Beth suggest that they'd be happy to see the back of each other. It makes you question why Zakes would go to such lengths, through such physical punishment, to be reunited with someone who's just dumped him, and who he's subsequently discovered has cheated on him. As mentioned earlier though, it's best not to think too much about the holes in the script - just ride with the enjoyable suspense.
On a more base level, it's fair to say that HUSH should please fans of edgy thrillers with it's unflagging pace and latter forays into Grand Guignol spectacles such as nails hammered through hands and a squishy eyeball piercing. The finale is satisfying too - although, stick around during the closing titles if you want to find out what happens to a sub-plot you may think Tonderai had forgotten about.
HUSH is treated to a most impressive uncut presentation on Optimum's DVD. The film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and looks great, with solid blacks and well-rendered colours complementing the natural flesh tones to a tee. Images are crisp and detail is fine in a transfer that is pleasingly high in definition.
English audio is provided in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both offer a reliable and consistent playback but, to receive the full benefit of Boydell's jump-cuts and Theo Green's jolting score, the latter mix wins hands down.
Optional English subtitles are available for the Hard of Hearing. Furthermore, there is even an English 2.0 audio descriptive track present for the visually impaired.
Animated menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 8 chapters.
An intelligent selection of extras begins with an enjoyable commentary track from Tonderai in conversation with cinematographer Philipp Blaubach, co-producer Zoe Stewart and composer Green.
Tonderai leads the discussion as they cover such matters as the film's subtle use of CGI, the fact that amazingly no motorways were utilised during the 5-week shoot, the commitment of the small cast, which scenes were shot in HD and much more. A genuinely worthwhile listen, this is one of those warm and informative commentary tracks that truly deepens your appreciation of what you're watching.
A 2-minute trailer is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and does a decent job of highlighting the film's tense nature. It wisely eschews the two lead actors' ropy regional accents.
Next up is a 9-minute interview with Tonderai, who comes across as friendly and candid. He happily concedes that the origins for the script were based around budget, and how important preparation was (storyboards, night shoots etc). As with the commentary track, Tonderai is not afraid to discuss what he'd do differently in hindsight.
Then there's a good 10-minute interview with Ash. As with the Tonderai interview, he speaks to an off-screen interviewer while questions appear as text on the screen. Ash comes across as enthusiastic and bright.
"Orange Artist On Artist: Noel Clarke Interviews Mark Tonderai" is exactly what it's title suggests, with Clarke (director of ADULTHOOD; actor in 'Doctor Who', DOGHOUSE etc) and the HUSH director discussing their respective careers over a relaxed 10 minutes.
8 minutes of deleted scenes are shown in non-anamorphic 2.35:1. These are presented twice in the disc's extras menu - once with Tonderai's commentary, and then without.
Finally, there are no less than seven additional short featurettes to take us further behind the scenes: 'Making The Motorway' (1 minute 22 seconds), 'Directing Traffic' (37 seconds), 'Peeping Tom' (2 minutes 18 seconds), 'Back Projection' (1 minute 56 seconds), 'Beth' (1 minute 43 seconds), 'Water Inconvenience' (1 minute 56 seconds) and 'Chris Busby - Key Grip' (1 minute 26 seconds).
Aside from revealing some interesting behind-the-scenes footage these also allow us to meet a few more of the cast and crew, including Bottomley discussing her character. Each of these featurettes is grainy in look and presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1.
The disc is defaulted to open with anamorphic trailers for EDEN LAKE, MARTYRS and DONKEY PUNCH.
HUSH is not without it's flaws. But its flaws are quite common to the horror-thriller genre, and ultimately this emerges as a very strong debut from Tonderai. If he can elicit scenes of tension like this on what must've been a meagre budget (we're talking Film Four and UK Lottery funding here), then surely it's only a matter of time before Hollywood are throwing real money his way. Just imagine the results.
Also available on Blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Optimum Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|