While requiring a lot of belief suspended to accept the plot setup, the creators of Hanah’s Gift bent the rules of the visual medium further still to create a unique cinematic experience.
On the eve of a court-ordered anger management meeting, an eclectic group of misfits arrives at a remote location belonging to Mrs. Roarke (Laura Lock). Two special-needs children, Hanah (Alina Herrera) and her older friend Toby (Victoria Engelmayer), are also guests of Mrs. Roarke. Shortly after the group’s moderator Stacy (J.T Williams) hurries the two girls off to an out-of-the-way room so she can start the meeting, the lights go out and screaming starts. One of the attendees, a firefighter named Tyler (Melanie Wise), manages to reach Hanah and Toby, protecting them until they can get help or reach someplace safe, but from what?
Hanah’s Gift is a POV (point-of-view) film sharing commonalities with both The Blair Witch Project and the more recent Cloverfield. Hanah’s “gift,” however, is that the story not only unfolds from her point of view but also from her unique perspective. For a small suspension of disbelief in trade, the audience is treated to a unique point of view that otherwise couldn’t exist, and the filmmakers excelled at exploiting this technique. By adding an unnecessary science fiction element on top of that fantasy element, however, precious time is wasted by the audience trying to make sense of what they know instead of settling down into sharing the experience of the little mute girl running for her life.
Perhaps filmmakers were trying to cover all the bases to emphasize their story, but since it’s being told from the victim’s side, the creators didn’t trust the audience to go along with the mystery or settle for fewer clues. Instead, an additional series of nearly unbelievable plot revelations over-explain the story long before the running starts, and none of it is really anything more than a distraction from the real plot: run and hide or die. Afterwards, it also doesn’t matter if it’s believable that every stranger the victims meet on the run could also be the next corpse, because we’re there watching it happen. The strongest performances in the cast are the characters of Tyler, Toby, and the cameraman playing Hanah, and many of the slower moments could have been structurally peppered with these kinds of clues rather than front-loading them so early.
Although the story structure for the first act could have been more believable and better arranged for effect, the filmmakers succeed in the execution of the premise. Although a gimmick in its own right, the “Hanna Effect” is used sparingly and cleverly, pushing the POV technique to see what they can get away with (read: a lot). With the audience itself cast as the little mute girl practically unable to even dress herself, it isn’t hard for the audience to feel just as helpless and even endangered, something that many recent slasher flicks and remakes fail at completely. Special credit must go to Victoria Engelmayer as the infectiously-enthusiastic Toby, and not only because you’re only going to wish there was someone else around who stuffs a backpack like she does when you’re on the run from homicidal maniacs in the middle of the night.