JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Hanah's Gift (Director/Writer: Zac Baldwin) - August 30, 2008
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Hanah's Gift

2.5 2.5
87 min.

Remarkable premise can't find its payoff

Hanah (Alina Herrara), an autistic child, is able to find her way into the minds of those around her and see the world through their eyes. Toby (Victoria Engelmayer, an exquisite motormouth whose own apparent demise comes as welcome relief), her constant companion (housed in the same institution for unwanted children) redefines hyperactivity, encouraging her younger pal to keep tabs on the adults by floating into their heads. Stacy (as evil incarnate, J.T. Williams can’t manage to induce a shiver), the leader of an anger management self-help group—fresh from recent patricide incited by paternal neglect—opts to off her entire class as her own deadly therapy for a miserable life (boyfriend Bobby—Wesley Stiller—assists in the mostly off-screen carnage with his blood-red, never coagulated, baseball bat). One of her targets is Tyler (Melanie Wise offers the widest range of acting skills yet seems none the worse for wear even after she “lost most of your blood”). She’s a firefighter with a temper who ignites the flame of fellow hothead and quipster Quillman (Brandt Willie)—Guess what: he’s a writer!

Director/writer Zac Baldwin has taken on the considerable challenge of unfolding his story in real time, showing it exclusively from Hanah’s perspective. Director of photography Paul Lohr has done a commendable job of being the silent girl’s eyes, but the narrative can’t sustain the conceit despite using some clever set-ups (e.g., “Shut your eyes, Hanah” as Tyler literally breaks the forgotten kids out of the house of death—the resultant black screen leaves the entire escape to the sound crew and our imagination) to work around tough shots.

From time to time, Baldwin’s social conscience seems about to make his film say something important (a long chase sequence stumbles into the lives of the neighbourhood’s homeless) about the world’s disenfranchised souls, but can’t find the lines or metaphors to lift the production into another world, much as Hanah’s “gift” puts her frail self into others’ shoes.

Let’s hope Baldwin’s next effort is driven more by a passionate need to tell a story than the technical feat of a singular point of view. JWR

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Director/Writer - Zac Baldwin
Producer - Melanie Wise
Cinematography - Paul Lohr
Editor - Todd Sali
Original Music - Zac Baldwin
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