AFED #52: Hush (UK, 2009); Dir. Mark Tonderai

I've never been a driver but from what I understand for the majority of motorists the greatest challenges they are likely to face are negotiating traffic jams, speed cameras and adverse weather conditions. There are accidents of course and even the occasional road rage incident, but providing you have some basic common sense they seem to be few and far between.

In the cinema, on the other hand, the unsuspecting traveller is never more than one wrong turning away from Hell's Highway. As with many fairy tales and folklore, mysterious strangers and the dread hand of fate are always waiting to strike and hurl characters into circumstances the like of which they never believed possible.

Being a cheap and convenient setting it's long been a staple of 'B' movies; perhaps the archetypal example being the cult noir Detour (1945), in which Tom Neal's hapless piano player finds himself plunged into a surreal confluence of misfortune while hitchhiking his way to California. There have been numerous other minor classics, from The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), to Steven Spielberg's feature debut Duel (1971, still for my money the best thing he's done) and The Hitcher (1985).

In more recent years Breakdown (1997), an underrated suspense with the equally underrated Kurt Russell, demonstrated once again how you don't need much to tell a gripping yarn. I mention this film in particular as I suspect British road thriller Hush owes it no small debt.

Zakes (William Ash), an aspiring novelist - *yawn* - who scratches a living putting up advertising posters at motorway services, is driving the down the M1 one night with his girlfriend Beth (Christine Bottomley) when he narrowly avoids a collision with a lorry. As the truck pulls away Zake thinks he sees a woman trapped in a cage in the back. But did he?

After following the vehicle to another service station Zakes and Beth argue and she storms off, but when he can't find her Zakes suspects she too may have been abducted. Of course, nobody believes him and thus begins a long night in which Zakes will find himself both the hunter, and the hunted...

I've already mentioned Breakdown, which utilises a similar kidnapping plot, but writer/director Mark Tonderai's script is such a bricolage of sources it's struggle to find anything here which is the least bit original. The doubtful witness idea who may, or may not, have witnessed a crime is of course pure Hitchcock, as is the contrivance by which Zakes himself ends up fleeing the authorities to prove his innocence. The trouble is that Tonderai has such a perfunctory understanding of suspense that the twists and set pieces are seldom more than cliches, and many of them just fall flat.

One could forgive this clumsy comprehension of grammar if he'd at least cast likable performers in the major roles, but William Ash is such a resoundingly obnoxious leading man it did little to evoke sympathy with his plight. It's difficult to judge how much of the fault lies with him as the doleful script - with dialogue that sounds like an A-level drama student's project - is an embarrassment. You could fit a four-lane motorway through the holes in the plot and have ample room for the hard shoulder.

I'm always glad to see solid, low-budget British thrillers but given this was produced with Film Council money surely one has a right to expect something with at least a hint of originality? If you're generous enough to overlook its shortcomings than I guess one could consider Hush reasonably diverting, but it ain't nothing to shout about.


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