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Hidden (2015)

Warner Bros. // R // October 6, 2015
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted December 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

At this point in the current stage of the apocalyptic/epidemic subgenre, it takes more than the bleakness of extended survival to draw one's attention to yet another entry among such a densely crowded field. Thin, dirty people expressing grievances over a lack of nourishment, of safety, and for civilization to return to what it was before the focal catastrophe can still be potent, but they've become familiar through repetition, needing an additional layer of depth to distinguish itself from the rest of the horde. Hidden, the small-scale indie from Matt and Ross Duffer, attempts to both explore the conventional and try something unique by upending the audience's perception of what they've seen beforehand. Despite the well-constructed, unnerving claustrophobia of its focal location and the durable performances from the family cast, there's not enough novelty in the drama where it counts and too much of a reliance on a revelation to make everything that came before it more meaningful than it really is.

Hidden starts out in the dark underbelly of an unknown suburban town, where a family of three -- father Ray (Alexander Skarsgard); mother Claire (Andrea Riseborough); and daughter Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) -- have been shacked up in a bomb shelter for the better part of a year. From what, exactly, is something kept from the audience's knowledge at first, though the enigmatic dangers of the surface and the "breathers" scouring the area are enough to keep them underground. Luckily, the family's been blessed with a store of foodstuffs and a sturdy door system to keep them safely locked in, leaving Ray and Claire to try and bring their daughter up in as normal of a way as the conditions will allow, driven by a daily routine of homeschooling, playing games, and reciting a daily set of rules to abide by as they scratch off the days. The conditions in the underneath and the rapidly depleting supplies are growing dire enough that the family's reconsidering their situation, though, and whether a trip to the surface is in order.

There's the urge to label what's going on in Hidden as slow-burning suspense, but the interactions between the family members lean closer to ill-omened drama than a gradual development of tension. Makeshift board games, Castaway-like projection of life onto an inanimate object, and arguments about their dissatisfaction over their variety of food instead build into a depiction of a family in it for the long haul, clustering together a lot of recognizable character-building ideas from other films about isolation and the apocalypse. Rattling bass and the oppressive shadows covering most of their living space lend some tense atmosphere to their life and conversations, emphasizing the unpleasantness of their conditions, but the isolation of the bomb shelter -- which has kept them safe for over 300 days -- and the habitual nature of mother Claire's teachings emphasize a sense of security that works against any suspense. The shelter that kept them safe for many months ends up working against the film's ambition.

It doesn't help that the people trapped underground in Hidden come across as one-dimensional based on the roles they fill, which is partially by design but also a symptom of the film's deliberate timeframe and seclusion. Some of that is to be expected when we're only offered a glimpse at a day into the lives of those within such a confined space, but these family members also play to overly familiar and simplistic character types, leaving the dramatic tempo feeling overly modest and stale. Andrea Riseborough projects the stern, protective mother who's seen as harsh by her daughter, while Alexander Skarsgard's Ray caving to his little girl's whims presents his as the nurturing figure favored for his lenience. Both actors turn in earnest, albeit anticipated performances that are balanced by Emily Alyn Lind's mature alertness as Zoe, drawing some compassion to their continued turmoil; however, their clear-cut character types are only interesting enough to service the demands of a horror-thriller atmosphere, and their predictable interactions extend long beyond that.

Hidden banks on the expectation that this extended time with the family will add more emotion to the tension that's to emerge once the terrors from above intrude on their livelihood, but the plainness and predictability of it all never reaches that desired effect when their lives actually become threatened. Some traditional, routine suspense emerges when they listen for movement up top and observe their bleak surroundings through a makeshift periscope, elevating the film's pulse once the mysterious "breathers" make their presence known and the family stays as quiet and under control as they can. Alas, it all feels like the commonplace machinations of this brand of post-apocalyptic cinema, as if missing something integral that'd elevate the interest level in what's going on. Only much later does Hidden reveal, in a fashion not unlike the more shrug-worthy twists of M. Night Shyamalan's mysteries, that there was another layer concealed all along -- in plain sight within the family's conversations -- about the status of the tainted lands around their shelter. By then, however, it's too little, too late.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Make no mistake, Hidden revolves around an incredibly dark and gritty atmosphere, covered in shadows throughout and slathered with a yellow-tinged palette whenever light does shine on any details. WB's 2.35:1-framed, 16x9-enhanced transfer navigates these shadows and deliberately coarse appearance with a reputable amount of stability: black levels frequently swallow up details and heavy noise appears throughout, but that goes towards enhancing the film's intended aesthetic. Harsh textures on walls, caked-on filth on the survivors, and the details of the tally scratches and board game offer reputable clarity where needed, while the handful of flashback sequences -- most of which are outside the shelter -- nail down some pleasing contrast balance and garment detail. It's grainy, dim, and oppressive for the majority of the film, though, which often depletes the cinematography of depth and makes the light's effects appear erratic. The transfer conveys what it needs to, but it's not an appealing sight.

There's a lot, a lot, of bass rumble in the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, an attempt for the film to add pervasive intensity to the atmosphere. That rumble tends to fill the surround stage with an excessive amount of bass, but it's never pitched to a point that noticeably drowns out the other surround effects going on in the shelter. Sounds of heavy footsteps and the shrill calls of the "breathers" nail down some satisfying higher-end elements, enhanced by the soundtrack's fine capability to create spatial distance in the surround stage, while the clang of chains and aggressive pounding on heavy metal doors offer thunderous lower-end response and impressive mid-range heft. Subtler effects can also be satisfying, from torn fabric to the rattle of cans in a wood box. No distortion is perceptible, and dialogue rings true at all points and with an atmospheric receptiveness to it.

Special Features:


Final Thoughts:

Matt and Ross Duffer crammed a lot of potential into their claustrophobic indie thriller, Hidden: a dark and ominous shelter packed with necessities, mysterious apocalyptic/epidemic circumstances, and a pair of established dramatic talents filling the roles of father and mother in a holed-up family unit. The largely one-location film hits strong atmospheric notes within the well-constructed, uniquely-photographed confines of the family's discovered shelter, and the performances from Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard, and Emily Alyn Lind are authentic and appealing as they cope with isolation and burgeoning fear. The introduction and dramatic tempo surrounding the family never stops feeling stale and rehashed, though, and the suspense that eventually emerges from this isn't enhanced in the way this dramatic introduction should've achieved by the time spent with the family unit. Add on a twist that provokes curiosity but ultimately cannot support what comes before it, and what's there is a mixed bag that doesn't really scare with its mood and does little that's distinctive with its drama. Rent It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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