I’m one o’ the few (if not the only) guys around this place that will not only watch and review “found-footage” flicks, but try to give each one a chance and see what it offers to the genre as a whole. Granted, I’m more often than not kicking myself in the ass when the credits roll because I wasted another hour to two hours of my life on yet another crappy Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch clone, but there are those bright spots that I run across that at least hold my interest. On rare occasions, I see something I haven’t seen before…
Hanah’s Gift, written and directed by Zac Baldwin, is a little indie from back in 2008 that slipped quietly under the radar in the festival circuit. Having had the recent opportunity to check it out, I have to say it carried a pretty damned ingenious element that was certainly a new one on me.
We’re witness from a child’s POV a violent encounter between people we can only consider to be the parents; years later, we still see through the eyes of the same child, whom we learn to be a young, autistic girl named Hanah. Right off the bat, we learn from her exchanges with her boisterous and talkative ADHD-addled companion Toby that Hanah has a unique ability despite her handicap; Hanah is able to project her consciousness from her body, both around the environment and into the minds of other people. That evening, the woman that the two girls are staying with for the weekend is having an anger-management group therapy session at her home, and asks the children to stay out of the way. The state-appointed therapist, Stacy, arrives shortly after the mixed group of angry people, and begins the mandated session with an aggressive attitude. It’s soon revealed, however, that Stacy herself has some suppressed, psychotic anger, and is prepared to take it out on the group. A horrendous massacre ensues, and at first, only Tyler, the tall, attractive female firefighter seems to escape, finding the two children (who, thanks to Hanah’s ability to see what was going on, have hidden) and taking it upon herself to lead them to safety. Along the way, they find another survivor, Quillman, and the four hide in an abandoned building in an effort to wait out the night, hoping to find help or safety with the sunrise…but a determined, relentless killer still stalks them, and before the night is over, a final confrontation is inevitable.
I thought the twist of the “footage” actually being seen through the eyes of a character that can be near omniscient was pretty cool; it allowed some dynamic set-ups and developed some interesting character moments, all without having to explain why is there a camera there? Beyond that, however, this is a low-budget indie; thus, you know what you’re getting into. The story is actually not a bad one, but it would have worked better as a 30-40 minute short; there’s a lot of time spent on the therapy session and a budding romance that causes the film to suffer some serious dragging and unrealistic moments; if they wanted feature-length, that time would have been better spent giving us some background on Stacy, establishing a clearer motivation for her actions (of which we only get a hurried Cliff’s Notes version). Technically, there’s some significant issues with the audio and occasionally murky camera-work, and the acting is strictly hit-and-miss. Most of the characters in the film deliver performances somewhere around community-theater level; still, that’s better than a lot of shoestring indies I’ve seen. There are standouts, however; Victoria J. Mayers (appearing as Victoria Englemayer), as the ADHD-afflicted Toby, was very good, her deservedly over-the-top chatterbox behavior jarringly annyoing when we first meet her, but as the film goes on, you find more and more sympathy and caring for the character; not the easiest thing to pull off as an actor. Melanie Wise, as the tough-but-grudgingly-caring Tyler carries her role well, although her Amazonian physicality wasn’t utilized as well as could have been in the darkened fight scenes. Also, I felt the script sabotaged her somewhat in it’s odd structure; a prime example is the character trying to make a date in a situation where she’s supposed to be hiding from a homicidal maniac…that would test the skills of Meryl Streep, for chrissake. Similarly, the script also stilted the homicidal tendencies of Stacy, but J.T. Williams did the best she could with what she had.
Gore effects pretty much just amounted to some blood on a baseball bat and seeping from an only peripherally-seen wound, but that’s fitting with the budgetary constaints. Where the technical effects did shine was the transitioning effect when Hanah’s viewpoint would “roam” about, moving from place to place and person to person; this innovative approach was a pretty impressive turn, and made up for a lot of the film’s shortcomings.
So there ya have it, folks; it’s a cheap indie, with all the failings of a cheap indie, save that it had a damned original take on a tired and largely junked-up subgenre. Obviously, the ripples that it made in the genre haven’t been far-reaching, but it did make enough of a splash to win the Audience Choice Award and the Rising Star Award (Victoria J. Mayers) at ShockerFest of that year.
If you’re a fan of inexpensive independent films, and the inevitable constraints aren’t something that would put you off, I’d say give this one a go, just for the overall “telepathic-character-as-the-camera” aspect; conversely, if you’re the kind of Fellow Fan that wants more spit-and-polish on your horror, you’ll likely find yourself disappointed.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing what the same group could do with a bigger budget and some script tweaking; I was intrigued enough with the concept that I would definitely check that out.
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