Four 20-somethings – two men and two women – arrive at a house in the country with a plan to create a new community, where they will shut themselves off from the outside world. There are a few rules, such as that a couple – a different combination each time – will be locked into the master bedroom every night and not allowed out until the morning. They all also gather each evening to play games, talk and watch performances. They have no external contact, don’t pay attention to the news and try to create something carefree and almost childlike.
The bonds between the quartet start to deepen as they share each other’s lives, which includes various combinations of sexual sharing, initially between boy-girl couplings before becoming more bisexual and polyamorous. However, when someone from one of their pasts comes to visit, it threatens to disrupt their carefully created world.
Hide & Seek won The Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but many people will wonder why. It’s all rather preciously middle-class, and so determined to defy audience expectations that it doesn’t care whether it makes all that much sense. It knows the viewer is likely to be waiting for the four people’s idyll to come crashing down, but instead wants to challenge them with suggestions that just because something doesn’t fit with typical societal expectations doesn’t mean it’s inherently unstable.
However, to do that it ignores all sorts of major questions, some of which are purely practical – such as if they aren’t leaving their mini-commune, where’s the food coming from? Others are more personal, but we learn so little about these people it’s difficult to understand what brought them to the house, exactly what they’re getting out of it and what actually bonds them together. It’s a shame, as it could have been a fascinating look into a unique world in microcosm – people escaping the pressures of society and in some ways trying to regress to how they were as children, but instead most of the time it feels like nothing is happening pretty slowly.
Things pick up when the interloper arrives in their midst, who really doesn’t understand what they’re doing or what they’re hoping to achieve. Again though, what was a perfect opportunity to help deepen the viewer’s understanding of their community, and get us to really question whether they’re building something worthwhile or just becoming a bunch of weirdos with their heads in the sand, fails to really take us very far.
There’s also a fair amount of explicit sex – including two scenes featuring erections and real masturbation – but it doesn’t feel like they’re adding too much. Even when the two guys and two girls start getting it together, or indeed they all end up in bed together, it doesn’t feel like we’re getting beyond relatively obvious ideas about the changing shape of their connection. It seems oddly pleased with itself when the guys get it together though, as if it’s being transgressive in showing two ‘straight’ guys throwing off the societal shackles and expressing their feelings for one another. However, there’s been so little context, beyond the fact they didn’t have sex the first night they shared a bed, that it’s tough to know whether they’ve pushed their boundaries at all. For all we know they could have known they were bi/pansexual before and just needed the right moment to get physical.
It’s also noticeable that the same sex combinations – particularly the men – are more chaste than the heterosexual couplings, which makes the whole thing feel more coy and tokenistic than boundary pushing. Even when they all end up in bed together and there is a lot of flesh on display, supposedly showing full-on polyamory, it’s still kept oddly heterosexual, with the fact there are two males and two female involved almost incidental. It results with it feeling oddly pleased with itself for including the idea, while actually being more staid and traditional than it thinks it is.
Ultimately though it’s perhaps most undermined by how middle-class it is and how far it goes to ignore that. It’s all very well and good for these people to go off and create a commune in a posh house in the countryside, where they’re obviously all financially comfortable enough to do that, but for most people it wouldn’t be that simple. Without any context it ends up making them seem decadent, facile, privileged and rather entitled.
The film is an interesting experiment and hints towards a movie that could have been genuinely challenging and interesting. However, in its avowed determination not to be like other films and not have characters who display typical motivations, desires and arcs, it ends up not seeming to be about all that much at all. Indeed, most viewers will just find it extremely boring.
Overall Verdict: Despite having the potential to be extremely interesting and challenging, it’s determination to defy expectations and an inability to get under the surface of its characters and their situation results in something surprisingly dull.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac