Hanah’s Gift is an ambitious little film that pits a pair of age-old mortal enemies once more at each other’s throat: angry black women and mute, autistic Hispanic girls. Yes, it’s that tired formula AGAIN.
Hanah (Alina Herrera) is an autistic six year old who doesn’t speak and lives in an “institution” of some sort where they put autistic kids who don’t speak. This particular night, though, she’s visiting Mrs. Roarke (Laura Lock), an old lady who volunteers to take Hanah and another troubled girl, teenager (?) Toby (Victoria Engelmayer), home for the weekend. Supposedly Toby is just hyperactive and has ADD, but she seems kinda slow on top of that. In classic mismatched buddy fashion, while Hanah can’t speak, Toby can’t shut the hell up.
Little Hanah’s “gift”, incidentally, isn’t the ability to count toothpicks that fall on the floor. Instead, she can jump into another person’s head and see what they see. Here’s where the really unique aspect of the film comes into play. It’s actually a POV/”found footage” movie, along the lines of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Quarantine, and by giving Hanah the ability to jump into people’s heads, writer/director Zac Baldwin cleverly allows us to see the action not only from her point of view, but from others’ as well. Beyond the POV motif, Baldwin ratchets up the striking originality of Hanah’s Gift by utilizing a “real time” format, with extended single-take shots that are impressive technically and creatively (although it clearly wasn’t done in one shot, as there are ample cuts).
But back to the story. Mrs. Roarke is part of an anger management group that meets one night at her secluded rural home. It’s moderated by a black woman named Stacy (J.T. Williams), who seems to have anger issues of her own — as in “I’d like to stab every single one of you with scissors” anger issues. And so she does. To be fair, she has help from her boyfriend, Bobby (Wesley Stiller), and a pair of night vision glasses (which look suspicously like motorcycle goggles) that come in handy when they cut the power. It’s never really clear why they’d want to kill the entire group — well, other than the fact that they’re all angry assholes.
Two members of the group do manage to survive: a guy named Quillman (Brandt Wille) and an Amazonian female firefighter named Tyler (Melanie Wise), who for some reason dresses in a sports bra. They team up with the two kids and try to survive the night without being scissored.
As with most films with such a low budget, you have to look past the mediocre acting and technical glitches — lighting, boom mike, sound quality that will have you straining to hear the unintelligible dialogue — to appreciate the core of what’s being put on screen. Hanah’s Gift is inventive and unique, two things you can’t say about most horror movies today. Despite having to sit through the realistic tedium of a group therapy meeting and the overly carefree flirting between Tyler and Quillman (There’s a killer stalking you, and you’re making plans for a date?), the overall concept and structure of the film keep you intrigued. Plus, it’s nice to see a black woman cast in a major role — even though she’s the villain — without race being an issue. Bat-shit crazy knows no color.
The most effective scenes are the ones with minimal talking, the ones that rely on the natural ambient sound (The POV angle is a great strategy for a low-budget film.) to create chills. With a bigger budget, Hanah’s Gift could’ve made a great hour-long episode of Masters of Horror or Fear Itself, but there’s not quite enough material here for a 90-minute feature.