How entertaining? ★★★☆☆
Thought provoking? ★★☆☆☆
8 November 2013
This article is a review of HIDE AND SEEK.
“There is a rumour going round our neighbourhood…” Pyeong-hwa (Kim Ji-yeong-III)
For much of HIDE AND SEEK, debutante writer-director Huh Jung had one’s admiration, for crafting a palpably taut thriller bordering on horror. Jumps and gasps and wails from the audience are sure signs the fear mechanics are working. One of course attempts to man up and not present outward signs at terror, but the body was certainly tensed. Anyone who conjectures cinema is a sedentary experience, leading to the softening of muscles, should give this a whirl.
At night a woman walks back home through a seedy district to her apartment in a grim almost-slum building. Following her into the elevator is a person dressed in dark colours with a motorcycle helmet on. Apart from a shock of hair sticking out of the back of the headgear there is no way to discern who is under the garb. The dread builds effectively. Once ensconced in her abode, we hope safely, but sense otherwise, the denizen is attacked. The brutality level is set. Cut to Seong-soo (Son Hyeon-joo), ostensibly leading the life advertisers would like to convey as aspirational: Well off, living in a slickly tasteful apartment, a beautiful wife, and two healthy young kids. He is the owner of a stylish café.
Seong-soo’s idyll begins to untangle when he gets a phone call to say his brother has gone missing. The last known address… you guessed it, the malevolent block of flats. The information triggers guilt ridden flashbacks to a wrong he committed on his estranged sibling, Seong-cheol, someone he has kept hidden from his nuclear family. At the same time, there is also an increase in his obsessive-compulsive behaviour leading to nightmarish hallucinations. The homeless man opposite his business heightens his remorse and hygiene regimen and trepidation. Themes of accountability can be paralleled in THE SERPENT (2006) and DEAD MAN’S SHOES.
After visiting his parents’ grave, Seong-soo takes his family to his missing brother’s building. Leaving them in the car, he goes to investigate. Meanwhile his wife, Joo-hee (Moon Jeong-hee), decides to let their young kids play in the seedy neighbourhood. Er, why? There are many such questions of character judgements, too frequent to let slide as merely panic-induced oversight. Seong-soo finds his brother’s apartment in a sad state, and tries to enquire from reticent neighbours as to Seong-cheol’s likely whereabouts. As Seong-soo navigates the block, various revelations emerge:
- There are plenty of squatters due to the close proximity of the harbour, and
- Each abode has a code scrawled on the wall he quickly deciphers, listing the demographic makeup of the apartment.
Kudos to how sinisterly played out this is. The lack of variety in the locations makes HIDE AND SEEK all the more claustrophobic.
The motorcycle helmet attacker is made a major element. Who is he? Seong-cheol? Or even Seong-soo? Or it might be the homeless man? Or someone else. Every drop of tension is wrung out until the revelation. Intermingled is a commentary on capitalism, in a far more interesting way than Im Sang-soo’s recent duo: THE HOUSEMAID and THE TASTE OF MONEY. Unfortunately, after we find out the identity, HIDE AND SEEK descends into hackneyed home invasion slasher mechanics, jettisoning credibility and logic in favour of paradigm, cliché and absurdity. Think Michael Keaton flick, PACIFIC HEIGHTS from 1990. For a more wholly satisfying pic, check out Hong Kong horror DREAM HOME.