In honor of BIFFF, (the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival), this time out I’m having a look at a Norwegian horror film on the festival program. Presented for your reading pleasure we have “Skjult” aka “Hidden”, fresh to your Favorite Catgirl Movie Fanatic by way of it’s recent Region 1 DVD release.
Our synopsis goes: “Following a bizarre accident on a desert road and an odd encounter with another boy about the same age, KK (Kristoffer Joner) returns to his hometown after a long period of estrangement. It’s a cozy yet slightly spooky place, a rural locale with a massive waterfall, surrounded by a daunting forest, and filled with unpleasant memories: the memory of the abusive mother who practically drove KK away, and who is now mercifully dead. In her will, she left KK a home in the heart of the woods; entering the house and coming face-to-face with disturbing memories conjures up torrents of evil that lurk inside of KK – malice that he suppressed for years but that now manifests itself with devastating force.”
Hmmmmm? So what the heck is going on in this one, anyway? Ghosts? Crazy maniac killer on the loose? A traumatized boy grown into psychotic manhood? I don’t know exactly what this one is all about, but I guess well all find out, won’t we? Let’s “Read On” and see…..
“Skjult” gets going right away by introducing us to our main character Kai Koss, nicknamed KK (played by Kristoffer Joner), who has returned to the small town were he was born and raised to see to the estate of his recently deceased mother. Only one problem….. she was an evil psycho mother from hell who spent her time torturing her son in a secret underground room in the cellar of her home waaaay out in the woods. Our hero escaped from her of course….. as we see in an initial flashback scene…. but that’s a problem plot wise for this lil’ Catgirl. Everybody seems to know all about KK’s terrible secret…. they feel sorry for him, especially his old friend Sara (played by Cecilie A. Mosli) now sheriff of the town…. but then how was his mother still running around free if that were the case? It’s only one of a number of basic plot problems that plague this one…. but more on those in a moment.
Kai has all the making of one of those quiet troubled loners that seem to populate horror films of this type. He’s withdrawn and friendless, despite an appearance of wealth, he seems to have no real happiness of any kind, just an empty husk of an existence. From the flashback we get an understanding of why his childhood home invokes such dread in him that the first thing he wants to do with the old place is to take two jerrycans of gasoline and burn it to the ground.
It’s certainly a creepy old house…. and director Pål Øie fills it with plenty of disturbing images…. especially the giant pile of bandaged dolls in the corner of the living room…. but despite all those neat ideas, gives us a story that doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I know, I know…. we are possibly seeing all this through the eyes of a very traumatized (and probably not to mentally stable) man, but some stuff just just makes no sense at all from a narrative standpoint. However, that means it’s “Spoiler Alert” time…. ’cause I can’t really dig into why these fail so badly without giving away quite a bit of the plot.
We’ve already mentioned that seemingly Kai’s mother was able to torture him till he escaped her evil clutches but somehow never got arrested or prosecuted for it….. a big point if his experiences are so well know as to have created the aura of “urban legend” that follows his return to town. There’s also the repeated image of the two boys from the night of his escape…. If Kai is the one who got away, then how was his mother able to “replace” him by kidnapping the other successfully? There’s the stupid story that the other boy fell from the area’s famous waterfall, but again, Kai saw his mother abduct him so why didn’t police bother to look in the cellar torture room to see if he was in there…. assuming Kai told the story of his captivity to… well… like ANYBODY to explain why he ran away. Nope.
Ok… Ok…. then there’s the “Guy in the Red Hoodie”. Supposedly our missing boy who was taken from the wreck site of his parents death to replace Kai. If he’s been haunting the house, lurking there for 19 years of so… or even since the mother’s death…. why have there been no other deaths or disappearances till Kai comes home? Ahhhh, you say…. there is no “Guy in the Red Hoodie”…. it’s all in Kai’s head…. So how do people die when Kai is unable to do the whole “split personality” bit…. like when he’s with Sara while one of her deputies gets killed?
These questions just don’t seem to go away, no matter how much you think about them and no amount of atmosphere or imagery can make them seem like they were planned either. Other elements are just annoying. Like the entire idea that the locals all seem to hate Kai. For what reason? None that I can see…. and none that is ever explained…. with the exception of one local thug who might possibly see tortured Kai as a rival for Sara’s affections. (Something which never becomes an issue anyway….. so why include it?)
Want more inexplicable plot items? How about the local hotel decorated by the cast of “Twin Peaks”…. and the strange brunette at the reception desk who might or might not want to get all slutty with Kai. Just what in heck is her role in this story? Neither Carolyn or I could figure it out…… The ending? Well… we finally get to see the “Guy in the Red Hoodie” at last (But no clue if he’s real or imaginary)…. and there’s a small nod to Norman Bates and “Psycho” as KK is driven away in handcuffs which was nice, but ever so unsatisfying overall….
Sigh…. All in all it’s a shame, cause this one really does have some fairly pretty visuals with quite a bit of striking imagery. The whole idea of the psychological horror that Kai went through has possibilities too. Unfortunately just too much of “Skjult” just doesn’t hang together in a way that makes you see this as a terrible hallucination hidden within a tragic reality….. It’s a well made film just not a well told one.
Given this, “Skjult” gets barely a rating of 3 “Meows” out of 5 from this lil’ Catgirl…. saved only by those aforementioned gorgeous visual elements and some competent acting, especially on the part of Kristoffer Joner. I would say it’s worth a watch… but for true horror fans, it’s more a rental than a must buy. Thank goodness I waited till Region 1 for this one, I’d have felt a bit cheated to have imported it myself from Region 2. Still… Norway has done good by Neko with the likes of “Fritt Vilt”, so I’m willing to forgive them for the occasional letdown. I guess it’s “Better luck next time”, for this lil’ Catgirl…..
Of course there’s a Trailer…. isn’t there always a Trailer? Enjoy!!