Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
Ok, the main event is a misty melodrama from the annals of Nicholas Sparks. This one is called The Choice. I remember seeing the trailer a few months back. I wasn’t interested then. And I’m still not. Luckily, the folks at iTunes always pick a little seen indie and offer it at the same low price. And iTunes is kicking off spooky season with the creepy feature-film debut from the guys behind Stranger Things. So …
This week, a family tries to survive a deadly outbreak – and the evil beings spawned from it – in Hidden.
Olive Said We Have To Hide
In the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, Ray (Alexander Skarsgård), Claire (Andrea Riseborough) and their 10-year-old daughter Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) have focused solely on their own survival. Whiling their time away in a well-stocked fallout shelter, they’ve managed to stay alive – and stay hidden – for 301 days. But they’re still being hunted by unseen beings that stalk the Earth above. And they’re running low on food below. Over the course of a single night, their carefully structured existence will begin to unravel. And day 301 may prove to be their last. Those are the stakes in The Duffer Bros. eerie chiller Hidden.
The Door Is Not the Only Way In
If you think that synopsis sounds a bit like an episode of The Twilight Zone, well, you’re right. The Duffer Bros. clearly have an affinity for that grandest of television series. And Hidden owes more than a little of its story and overall style to that show. There’s mystery and mayhem and a damn clever twist of an ending too. But there’s something to be said for subtlety. And for pacing. As brilliant as The Twilight Zone could be, it was often lacking in both. The Duffer Bros. debut takes a decidedly different approach with Hidden’s twisty narrative. Unfolding over a brisk 84-minutes, The Duffer’s build taut drama and intrigue from seclusion and restraint. The result is a powerful slow burn of a thriller that’s bubbling with classic horror and sci-fi tropes.
Much of that story is set in the bleak confines of an old fallout shelter – the kind that was so common in backyard America throughout The Cold War. The Duffer’s make ample use of the paranoia inherent to such a location and DP Thomas Townsend builds a thick layer of mystery in the low-lit corners of that shelter. But it’s the silence found in those dark corners that prove Hidden’s most effective tool. With so much of the film built around the characters’ isolation from the world, every footstep and every whisper in the dark ups the tension in often unexpected ways. And Composer David Julyan’s ominous compositions build the moody atmosphere to a fever pitch.
With so much of the story taking place in close quarters, that atmosphere is for naught if the actors don’t bring the drama. The nuclear family at Hidden’s center prove more than capable of carrying the load. They’re anchored by Alexander Skarsgård who continues to prove a most capable leading man. Here, Skarsgård brings a soulful energy to anguished but hopeful father Ray and keeps the film firmly grounded in real world drama … even when it reaches further. Skarsgård finds worthy counterpoints in the practical but tender warmth provided by Riseborough and the wide-eyed angst of youngster Lind. The film is at its best when all three are onscreen trading warm words over boardgames or worried glances as footsteps scuffle above.
Of course, with any subterranean drama it’s just a matter of time until the action heads above ground. And Hidden loses a little bit of steam once Ray & Co. leave the shelter. The Duffers do such a good job of building to the moment that the immediate aftermath doesn’t quite live up. But they find their legs again soon enough and a twisty bit of scripting makes the whole ordeal worthwhile and makes Hidden a fun, compelling bit of genre fiction.
Hidden is far from perfect. As clever as the script is, some of the dialogue hangs on the hammy side and the film’s final moments don’t quite hit their emotional mark. Still, Hidden is beautifully paced and exquisitely realized. If you’re looking for a pitch-black slow burner to kick off spooky season, it’s got more than enough treats to make its tricks worthwhile. And it’s absolutely worth a buck … if only to get new genre-bending fiction from those oh so clever Duffer Bros. If nothing else, Hidden is proof that The Duffers are worthy of the hype spawned by the success of Stranger Things. And it may just be enough to tide you over until Season 2 of that show finds its way to Netflix. Hopefully sooner than later.