I will confess that I approached Mageina Tovah's award-winning short film Hux with a cautious optimism, cautious because I'm one of those adults with a disability who has grown tired of ableist Hollywood pretending they know how to accurately portray disability without actually involving those with disabilities and optimistic because of the subject matter and Tovah's known passion for the subject matter due to growing up with a father who was a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a mother who was a pediatric physical therapist. While I will always prefer involvement of those with disabilities in film, I must say that Tovah's Hux won me over with its intelligent and sensitive portrayal of a young woman named Hux, portrayed by Tovah, living life on the autism spectrum yet facing even further isolation when an epidemic decimates the population and she appears to be the only survivor left in her small town.
Hux is infused with complex humanity and hints of sci-fi, though hardcore sci-fi geeks may find themselves a tad frustrated at the lack of explanation for exactly what's going on.
But, really. That's a huge part of the point.
Such is the world that Hux lives in. Such is the world that Hux has always lived in as a young woman trying desperately to "practice" social skills, a practice that could potentially never pay off in a world with few to no survivors.
Hux nicely and naturally captures that social isolation that is life for many, though certainly not all, individuals on the autism spectrum. While the film only runs about twelve minutes, Tovah manages to paint a meaningful story here about autism, social isolation and, yeah, hope. To give you too much of the story would be a crime - a huge part of the film's power comes from watching it all unfold. Suffice it to say that a brief yet marvelous appearance by Aurora Elise gives the film an emotional lift, while the film also features a brief yet welcome appearance by Harry Dean Stanton, The Green Mile, Twin Peaks).
Tovah is one of "those" actresses whose face you'll be likely to recognize. Having portrayed Ursula Ditkovich in the Spider-Man films and has also been seen in Scandal, American Horror Story, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and had a recurring role on the television series Joan of Arcadia among others. Despite her familiarity, Tovah immerses herself in the role of Hux and takes us along for the ride.
Hux, in addition to just having screened at the HollyShorts Film Festival, picked up the Best Dramatic Short award at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, the Best Professional Short award at the Reel to Reel Film Festival, and the Platinum Remi at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival in addition to several significant festival selections. The film benefits greatly from the work of D.P. Charlie Lieberman, known for his work on Joan of Arcadia and Heroes, and the original music provided by Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent from the folk duo Shovels & Rope (Critic's Note: Seriously, if you don't know Shovels & Rope look 'em up! They're fantastic!).
I always find it impressive when a filmmaker manages to tell a story about autism, or any other disability for that matter, without turning it into inspiration porn or overly sympathetic tripe. Such is the case with Hux, an involving story about a young woman with autism and the world in which she lives. Tovah does an exceptional job of weaving in different aspects and themes to the story, perhaps paving the way to a feature-length story at some point as this is certainly a character you want to spend more time with as the film ends.
With sensitivity and intelligence, Mageina Tovah has crafted a thoughtful and honest story that will leave you thinking and feeling long after the closing credits have rolled. If you get a chance, definitely check it out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic