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STUDIO RAM Releasing
RUNNING TIME 107 minutes
• “Making Of” Featurette
Visually impressive Korean thriller drops the ball.
Mi-seon Jeon, Jung-Hee Moon, Hyeon-ju Son, Huh Jung
A Korean family gets wrapped up in a mystery regarding a missing family member and a series of deadly home invasions.
I really need to stop watching movies in two sittings. It’s difficult to sit down for two hours on a weeknight, but I’ve gotta start somehow. Perhaps I would’ve had a better experience watching Hide and Seek in one sitting, but I’ll never know. I know this, though: my first night with this flick was really good. I was wrapped up in it. The second night, however, was a massive letdown. It was like the latter half of the movie was written by a totally different screenwriter. I can’t help but wonder what the hell happened.
I was dragged in by the film’s cold open. It’s a great scene, a legitimately terrifying (and icky) home invasion scenario that I hoped would last for the entire running time. I avoided any plot summaries prior to viewing, so I had no idea where the scene was going, but I was pleased to see that what began to unfold in the next few scenes was in line with the cold open.
After being introduced to the film’s central family, we discover that the father, Seong-Soo, is experiencing minor paranoid delusions, stemming from long-buried guilt about something that happened with his stepbrother when they were kids. His guilt begins to manifest itself in other ways, worsening his compulsion for household cleanliness and other OCD-like symptoms (for which he is taking medication).
As is customary for mystery thrillers, I began to wonder where all this was going. The film pushes this idea about squatters living in your home without your knowledge, which is a terrifying idea on a literal level. The flick has some really nasty but subtle moments that capitalize on this idea. What if, unbeknownst to you, someone broke in and used your toothbrush? Would you notice? What if you took a sip from your beer can, only to realize that an intruder had moments ago sipped from the same can? Eww. But all this pushing of the idea and the father’s unraveling mental state began to make me wonder… what if the father is becoming the intruder in his own home? What if he is slowly becoming the unwelcome presence without the other occupants even realizing? That seemed smart, and I was really digging it. It didn’t hurt that it was really well shot, well edited, and remarkably creepy.
When I say that the film is well shot, I’m talking about a lot of things. Shots are well framed and composed, lighting is beautiful, and there’s a strong sense of visual literacy. Director Huh Jung knows where to place things in the frame for maximum effectiveness. This is his first feature, and what’s so promising about his style is that he knows exactly what to show. There is clarity in his technique. Action, emotion, and information are conveyed dynamically and concisely through image alone. This isn’t easy. This implies that a filmmaker (alone or with his team) can storyboard and do a mental rough edit before production. They can easily break down complex sequences into camera setups. It’s a mark of a good visual filmmaker, and for someone as young as Huh Jung, it means he could have a promising career ahead of him. Despite having a first-time director and very little star power, Hide and Seek was a Korean box office hit, and was nominated for a whole bunch of Korean awards.
So let’s get this straight: there’s a whole lot about the film that works, but about halfway through the film, there’s a tonal shift from quiet and creepy to screeching melodrama that tosses nearly all the accumulated goodwill and tension into the trash. It’s a shocking change, one that becomes especially apparent when the central mystery of the film is exposed for what it truly is. If the film had stuck with what worked so well in the first half, we might’ve gotten something really noteworthy, but alas, the film starts to show that the number of tricks up its sleeves is very limited.
In the second act, there are two major foot chases and fist fights in the span of about ten minutes, which feels like an odd structural choice. The two fights end exactly the same way, as well: the hero is teetering on the precipice of certain doom, but is able to grab a blunt object that was barely within his reach and use it to bonk his attacker right in the noggin. The second of these fights is with the film’s big bad masked “slasher” villain, and after knocking the villain out, our protagonist doesn’t unmask the killer (who has been terrorizing his family) or release the all the anxiety he’s stuffing inside himself and bash the fucker’s face in. Either (or both) would seem the logical choice. But no, there’s still more movie left, so our protagonist just runs away and hides after defeating the villain in the second act. This is what we call a lapse in logic and a major structural issue.
There are a handful of huge logical lapses in the film’s third act, moments that make you wanna wring your hands and shout “why didn’t he/she just bash his/her head in when he/she had the chance?” It would be forgivable if it happened once, but over and over we see characters make really illogical choices in the moment so that the drama of the third act can be stretched. It makes the third act feel artificially lengthened. At this point in the film, I just wanted the damn credits to roll. They eventually did, but only after ten more minutes of drudgery. Do yourself a favor: If you’re gonna watch this one, watch it all in one night. That way, your excitement won’t have the opportunity to grow steadily over a twenty-four hour waiting period, and your potential disappointment with the film’s second half won’t wallop you like a pipe to the cranium.
The standard-def presentation here is fine, really. My only complaint is that the image has several lines of green-tinted pixels running up the left side of the frame. The film is really good-looking, so you would definitely benefit from watching this one in HD. The Korean audio track is consistently atmospheric, with lots of great little foley sounds coming through. The only bonus content is a long featurette about the making of the film. The interviews can get a little fluffy, but I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the film, so I’d say it’s worth watching.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars