Welcome to Horror Movie Month here at Late to the Theater! Once a year we focus on one of our absolute favorite things, horror movies! For the entire month of October we’ll review at least two movies a week, some old, some new, and usually fitting into a weekly theme. So pop the corn, pour yourself a glass of whatever, and come along for the ride! I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers!
Hola, and welcome to The Family That Slays Together Week here at Late to the Theater, a week dedicated to – you guessed it– families in peril! We’re looking at movies that imperil those most complex of situations, the family, in apocalypses both zombie and not. So sit back, relax, and stop touching your brother/sister/cousin/dog/whatever or so help me I will turn this car RIGHT AROUND.
As always, There Will Be Spoilers below the cut.
As mentioned in Monday’s entry Cargo, there’s such a glut of post-apocalyptic media in the world that it takes something extra special to grab one’s attention. While scrolling through Amazon’s horror offerings one night, three things about Hidden (2015) leapt out:
- Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, well known these days for blockbuster hit Stranger Things
- A Skarsgard – Alexander! My favorite Skarsgard — until I remember Bill is also my favorite
- Family survival
Ray (Skarsgard), Claire (Andrea Riseborough), and Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) are a family fortunate enough to have happened upon a bomb shelter. Their routine is rigid: sleep is important, canned food is rationed to make it last as long as possible, Ray keeps watch at times, and Claire gives Zoe educational lessons. Meaningful rituals relieve the boredom and mark the days, such as making the daily hashtag on the wall (301 so far) and taking ‘trips’ where Ray narrates imaginary outings to Zoe. Ray insists the family wear shoes at all times.
And always, always, they listen for signs of Breathers – gasping, throat-rattling creatures who prowl the surface in search of prey.
Fans of the Duffers’ Stranger Things will encounter notes common to both: an intelligent female child who has hidden strengths; suburban landscapes burned and blasted into unfamiliar and menacing shapes, a la Silent Hill; the military as an amorphous, untrustworthy entity. Ray even presents a warm and caring father figure a bit similar to Hopper. In a refreshing change from Stranger Things, there’s Claire, a strong and uncompromising maternal figure.
There’s a lot to like in Hidden – a tightly written story, balanced and well-acted characters, decent production value, and effective use of tension as well as a few well-placed jump scares. Skarsgard as a dad is a joy to watch (keep an eye out for his silly English matron accent). In Lind’s performance, the Duffers show again they have a great eye for spotting and working with talented kids. The actors look suitably disheveled and filthy, as they have gone almost a year without a bath. Riseborough’s hair in the bunker scenes looks like it washed up on a beach, and the light does her lovely face no favors, either.
See it if you’re patient with slow-burn thriller/horror, but not if you’re looking for lots of loud scares and pithy dialogue. This is horror aimed at a more mature, discerning audience and won’t appeal to everyone.
Hidden’s only weakness is its uneven pacing – although a few jump scares in the earlier half of the film foreshadow more action to come, when the action arrives, it’s almost too little too late. Additionally, throughout the entire film you knew there was going to be a twist.
After their bunker’s safety is compromised due to a fire, the family must break one of their own rules – going to the surface in order to better hide the entrance. Then, the Breathers’ identity is revealed – they’re soldiers charged with hunting down and exterminating the infected. And the infected, if you didn’t already see it coming, include Ray, Claire, and Zoe. They are the ones who can’t go to the surface (for fear of discovery), they are the ones who can’t lose control (and turning into zombies). The Breathers are some kind of Black Ops group whose gasping air regulators earned them their name.
Overall I would rate Hidden as a solid entry into the early work of still-developing filmmakers. There is the aforementioned pacing inconsistency, and also a few emotional beats that ring hollow instead of resonate. One such is when the Breather commander remarks, while his squad has a captured Zoe and Claire in their gun sights, that he also has a little girl. The moment is supposed to surprise and horrify the audience, but the latter have already figured out that the family are being hunted. It should have been played for tension, as if the commander is going to allow the family to live, but the moment doesn’t last long enough for the audience to wonder.
For me, the film was worth it to watch Skarsgard freak out, monster-style, on the commando squad. I couldn’t find any images of that so here’s one of him on-set eating. Enjoy!