Skjult (English title: Hidden). Directed & Written by Pål Øie.
Starring Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Arthur Berning, Anders Danielsen, Marko Iversen Kanic, & Cecilie A. Mosli. Alligator Film/Film Fund FUZZ.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
Pål Øie floored me with Villmark (a.k.a Dark Woods) in 2003. His first feature was creepy and genuinely well made, well acted. It took another 6 years to get more out of him. After Dark Horrorfest IV was a pretty good year, including a Clive Barker adaptation (Dread), a wildly unsettling Australian psychological horror called Lake Mungo, and of course, Øie’s Hidden.
This movie got to me because it’s intriguing horror, much of it cerebral-type madness. On top of that is the consistently wonderful action of Kristoffer Joner, whose headspace becomes a frightening aspect of the screenplay. What’s revealed over the course of the film’s plot is frightening enough, but getting into the head of Kai Koss (Joner) makes it all the more jarring. Doesn’t take long for the creepiness to seep in, yet still the story is a slow burn. While Kai figures things out, so do we, and the revelations come at that pace. Certain movies get ahead of themselves by letting the audience piece everything together before the characters. Alongside Kai, we’re plunged into the dark, treacherous space of his memories, which prove to be all too human. Perhaps if it were all supernatural, ghosts lurking in the shadows or fictional monsters then the psychological horror would be less intense. The emotional, human qualities of the film are what make it so damn effective.
Over blood and gore, over the avant garde, over many different types of horror, what gets me is something with a sense of old fashioned spookiness. It can be ghosts, zombies, serial killers, any sort of sub-genre within horror itself. Just so long as there’s a spooky feeling, something that clings to you. The atmosphere of some films alone is enough to make them worth watching. Hidden has such an atmosphere, a mood and tone which Øie cultivates impressively from the very first frame. Particularly, the scenes within Kai’s old house are relentless at times in the way suspense builds, getting more tense with every shadowy corner. By the time something pops out for a fright, or comes into frame, it doesn’t take much for Øie to get a scare. It isn’t only the scary stuff I dig. The cinematography of Sjur Aarthun makes certain moments look so rich, even as the colour palette of the film is faded and washed out; the contrasts when vibrant colours and patterns emerge in some shots make for a gorgeous viewing experience. Set in a rural area, the forest’s trees swallow all the exteriors up in luscious green while mist seems to sit over everything.
I’d first seen Joner in Øie’s Villmark. He was a solid actor then, only getting better with time. Naboer (a.k.a Next Door) is a truly trippy movie in which he does a fine job, as well. My favourite performance, even above Naboer, is here simply because the writing of the character is stellar. Kai is a damaged, frightened man even now as an adult. His mother ruined him for life with hideous abuse. Back in his old hometown, in his mother’s house, the terror of his childhood is nearly too much to bear. Watching him confront all the ghosts of his past, both in figurative and literal terms, is an intense experience. Joner gives a heartfelt performance and you can really get beneath the character’s surface with the way he plays him. What I’d call pensive, thoughtful acting. Certain actors seem to throw their whole body into it, too much sometimes. Joner, as Kai, keeps things calm and collected, he emotes well through the eyes, little expressions. He can play a lot of different roles, evidenced most recently with his turns in The Wave and The Revenant. Always, Kai Koss is going to stick with me. As tough as he finds it to let go of the past, letting go of this character is tougher.
There are too many genuinely eerie scenes to recount. A few of the best, to me, are as follows:
In the beginning when Kai goes to see his mother’s corpse in the morgue, he’s alone with her. Holding her hand, he ends up snapping off a finger. Initially we have no idea of the depth of abuse Kai’s experienced at the hands of his mother; so it’s at first sickly that he snaps a finger on her hand, then smiles. He hallucinates a second and sees her come alive, briefly, just long enough to freak him out. An effective shot, for whatever reason working better than the average jump scare.
During his first walk through the old house in years, Kai comes across a nice reference from The Changeling. He stands in a hallway, then from the dark watches as a bright red, rubber ball comes rolling out towards him. Spooky, spooky! A nice homage, too. If you’ve not seen the film I’m talking about, do yourself a favour this Halloween.
Several scenes give us jumpy frights when we’re seeing the mind of Kai go wild – his mother pops up everywhere to keep him terrified. What’s great is that after awhile he begins seeing someone in a red hooded sweatshirt. For a time, we’re not sure if that person is even real, or a figment of his imagination, as it gets worse when he sees himself out in the mist of the forest. Some real well done psychological horror, keeping us off balance for a long time.
If you’re not a fan of subtitles, you can always check out the dubbed version. But for my recommendation, Hidden is best and most effective in its original Norwegian. Even if you don’t dig subtitles, give this is a shot. So much of it is visual, you won’t find yourself tripping over words to try reading fast. Either way, Pål Øie directs a horrifically psychological thriller, one with brains, fortitude to deal with a heavy topic like a mother whose abuse shapes the lives of more than just her son, and a nice aesthetic throughout. You can do so much worse in terms of foreign horror, especially any horror concerning subjects such as those tackled here. Hidden‘s worth seeking out. I doubt you’ll regret it. If anything, Kristoffer Joner will keep your attention.