★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
The debut feature film by writing/directing team Matt & Ross Duffer — a.k.a. The Duffer Brothers — shows they knew what they were doing even before they took over the world with Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Directed by The Duffer Brothers
With three seasons down and at least one more on the way for their monumentally popular 80s throwback Netflix series, Stranger Things (2016-), you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last few years to not have heard about The Duffer Brothers. Prior to the Stranger Things explosion of 2016, however… I’m guessing most of us were chillin’ under that Duffer-less rock.
Everybody got their start somewhere, though! And for the Duffers it was a couple of short films followed by their debut feature-length project released in 2015, Hidden.
Hidden — not to be confused with the Kyle MacLachlan/alien parasite fun-fest, The Hidden (1987) — centers around a small family who’ve escaped to the safety of an old fallout shelter while their once sleepy town of Kingsville, North Carolina is ravaged by some kind of viral outbreak. This virus “changes” anyone that it affects. And, by the time we meet our characters Ray, Claire, and their eight year old daughter, Zoe, they’ve been hiding underground for 301 days doing everything they can to avoid being found by “The Breathers.”
As a well-crafted “slow burn”-style horror/thriller, the first half of the film concerns itself with getting to know the characters, observing the family dynamic, and seeing what life is like for them in their bomb shelter home. It’s during this claustrophobic-yet-kinda-cozy period that Alexander Skarsgård [HBO’s True Blood (2008 – 2014)] truly shines as the devoted father, Ray. The father/daughter relationship between him and Zoe [Emily Alyn Lind; Doctor Sleep (2019)] takes center stage and Skarsgård puts his heart into it.
While Zoe’s mother Claire [Andrea Riseborough; Mandy (2018)] comforts her daughter who’s plagued by nightmares about The Breathers, she’s also working on coming to terms with the idea that her little girl is growing up. “Stop calling me Zoe-Zoe! I’m not a baby anymore,” becomes a familiar refrain, in fact. With personalizing touches like these, The Duffer Brothers weave a (more or less) successful vision of a stable, loving family trying to keep things together under extraordinary circumstances.
In spite of their best efforts, the tension continues to mount. A potential food shortage, an incident with a tiny interloper, and an unfortunate accident all push the family towards the one predictably inevitable event in a movie called Hidden… discovery.
The Duffer Brothers do a good job with balance in this movie. The deliberate pace during the time with the family is keeps the audience’s attention with the mechanics of living in a fallout shelter as well as the oppressive and constant threat of being found by The Breathers. Of course, once the slow burn ultimately bursts into flame, things devolve nicely into hectic, dangerous chaos.
The filmmakers also use a number of flashbacks to masterful effect. Scenes of the past fit organically into the narrative giving the audience a satisfying account of what lead up to the family’s subterranean existence. Not to mention ramping up the tension and raising the stakes as the film picks up speed on the back end.
Hidden is not a grisly gore-fest. This is more thriller than horror when it comes to special effects, but the ones they do have are believable and look good. The use of lighting, on the other hand, definitely needs to be mentioned.
With much of the movie taking place in a small underground bunker, you might expect the scenes to be pretty dark. Dark and repetitive; we’re only talking about four or so different rooms here. However, using subtle adjustments to brightness and color, the lighting crew manages to change the look and feel of their limited sets with an artful hand. The same room that felt cold and terrifying just moments ago is suddenly cozy and oddly comfortable for a bomb shelter.
Even though Riseborough’s character, Claire, seemed a bit under utilized and young Zoe could occasionally be painfully frustrating, Hidden has a lot going for it. It’s a well-told story with a nice twist to it.
So, if you don’t mind waiting for the water to boil, The Duffer Brothers make a darn good soup.
Hidden can be seen via Amazon Prime, iTunes, and other streaming platforms.
Review by Robert Zilbauer.