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Saturday, May 24, 2014

HIDE AND SEEK -- DVD review by porfle

There are some pretty hair-raising Asian horror movies that rely on the supernatural, along with a hefty amount of nerve-jangling jump scares, to chill the blood.  Korean writer-director Jung Huh's HIDE AND SEEK (2013), on the other hand, is a reality-based suspense thriller that literally strikes close to home.

Seong-soo (Hyeon-ju Son) is an obsessive-compulsive upper-class business owner with a lovely wife, Min-ji (Mi-seon Jeon) and two darling (ehh) children who live in one of those antiseptic, high-security apartment buildings.  Some of the film's most unsettling early scenes are those in which this hand-washing neat freak is exposed to germs.  And when we see this happy family playing a carefree game of hide-and-seek in an early scene, we know they're really in for it.

When he discovers that his estranged stepbrother Sung-chul has been reported missing, Seong-soo goes to the soon-to-be-demolished slum where he's been living to investigate.  Since we saw one of the tenants brutally murdered in her apartment in the way-disturbing opening sequence, we know something really bad is going on there. 

Seong-soo has his own suspicions when he notices that the doorbells in the building are crudely inscribed with mysterious symbols.  Back at his nice, well-protected apartment building, he finds the same symbols showing up there as well.  It appears, then, that not only might the killer be his stepbrother looking for revenge for a past wrong, but that he may have followed Seong-soo home.

But we're never really sure, and that's one of the fun things about HIDE AND SEEK.  The killer appears to be a Jason/Michael Myers clone with his dark outfit, face-obscuring motorcycle helmet, and silent but deadly demeanor.  But he's realistic enough to give us the old "this could really happen" feeling, especially when he tries to force his way into the apartment as Min-ji stands between him and her children. 

Seong-soo, meanwhile, has some downright scary experiences of his own back at Sung-chul's place, some of which involve grievous bodily harm and discovery of a dead body or two.  And when his own behavior starts to go off the rails as a result of it all,  we begin to doubt his sanity as well as that of his mysterious stepbrother.

Despite some early nods (mostly during dream sequences), the story doesn't aspire to the fear level of a supernatural Asian horror film with jack-in-the-box ghosts and other sudden scares, depending as much on getting our adrenaline going as chilling the blood. 

This is especially true of a fight scene about midway in the film in which Seong-soo has a tooth-and-nail encounter with a helmeted figure who may be Sung-chul.  The violence isn't extremely gory but it may have you wincing in sympathetic pain a few times as people get stabbed and beaten with blunt instruments. 

Early on there are mild hints of Argento and Hitchcock, with a bit of a CACHE' vibe creeping in due  to some story elements.  Jung Huh has a clean, economical directing style that moves it all along briskly while relentlessly building tension.  (A plot twist late in the film may have you doing a mental doubletake unless you're one of those "I saw it coming" types.)

Even when things get more chaotic the director keeps it all effectively restrained and well-controlled for the most part, stretching our nerves like piano wires--until finally allowing the ending sequence to go on too long.  Here,  one climax too many robs the film of its effectiveness in the final minutes, although--for me--this didn't prevent it from being a worthwhile experience.

Performances are good, notably Hyeon-ju Son as the deceptively placid-looking Seong-soo and Jung-Hee Moon as Joo-hee, a furtive neighbor of Sung-chul who may hold the key to his disappearance.  Even the smallest children in the cast, called upon to portray either screaming terror or abnormal behavior, are well up to the task.

The DVD from RAM Releasing is widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  Korean soundtrack with English subtitles and closed captioning.  Extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette (about half an hour long) and trailers for this and other films from RAM.

Tense, unsettling, and at times achingly suspenseful, HIDE AND SEEK has a decadently dark appeal much like a modern-day Hitchcock horror with both an Asian flavor and a dash of giallo.  It's only in the closing minutes that we start wishing it would hurry up and end already. 

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