Almost halfway through my horror-a-thon and I guess I’m getting a bit absent-minded, because I keep forgetting to turn off the light before I go to bed. And despite living in a secured building in a relatively safe, small city, I’m finding myself double-checking that both locks on my front door are properly secured. Speaking of which, I’m immensely glad I don’t live in an eerie but terrifyingly beautiful forest, even if my life could be a bounty for Skjult (“Hidden”)’s cinematographer’s talents.
The film begins with a young boy running through a forest, and almost getting hit by a truck. The truck swerves and avoids him, but plows straight into the car of another boy’s parents, killing them instantly, while the other boy looks on from the side of the road. Flash-forward 19 years later (nice not to have a round number), when the runner, Kai “KK” Koss (Kristoffer Joner) now grown up, confirms the identity and sight of his mother’s fresh corpse. If Joner’s expertly-crafted facial tics didn’t clearly imply that KK had a terrible childhood, his odd behaviour around the body (let’s leave it at that) might make things a bit clearer. Still not sure? How about a nightmarish vision/scare of the old lady?
Back in his hometown to settle any estate-related affairs, KK spends much of the film in a dream-like, near-cathartic state, as he struggles to put behind him the memories of his mother’s abuse (including scalding him when he wet the bed). Joner’s haggard, weary visage constantly looks as though it’s about to shatter at any given moment. The film’s partly-hotel-setting and emphasis on the psychological at times invoke the atmosphere of The Shining, with Joner feeling like he’s giving both Nicholson’s and Duvall’s performances in one go. Cecilie A. Mosli imbues supporting character Sara with an effortless warmth that’s very much appreciated to break up the film’s unsettling tension, and some grounding when the story occasionally shifts gears from unreliable to reliable narratives.
And it’s the former in which the film occasionally indulges. While that’s not uncommon for a psychological horror movie, it can make the movie more of a mindfuck than a scare-fest, and that cinematic handicap is compounded by the choice to scare more with EXTREMELY LOUD MUSICAL CUE-LETS rather than the genuine scares that they accompany.
The story is relatively simple, but it felt like it was deliberately chopped up into a fragmented format that lends itself to plotholes (or potential plotholes). Even the film’s final shot comes off as a bit of a middle finger to the mood and narrative that the past 90 minutes or so had been diligently building up. While the cinematography is indeed, aforementionedly, lush, it jars with the expositions and reveals that are mentioned off-handedly. Though it’s not something you’d watch over and over again (the storytelling techique, while far-fetched, has nothing on the film’s myriad themes of disturbing subject matter), it’s still a lingering, stylized piece.