SKJULT – HIDDEN (2009) – The Dungeon review!
Skjult has a great opening scene that really grabs you and pulls you in. We are informed the year is 1989. A little blond boy is taking a pee while his parents wait in the car. We see an arm pop up from the ground and a dirty unclothed boy comes running through the woods. His eyes briefly lock with the blond boys and he darts out into the road barely missing being hit. The vehicle swerves and hits the blond boys parents and the car instantly goes up in flames. The film moves to present day where we meet Kai Koss, who after learning of his mothers death, comes back to the town he escaped as a child. It is established immediately that Kai’s mommy probably wasn’t a very nice lady. Upon seeing her lifeless body laid out on a table he feels compelled to break one of her fingers to insure she really is dead and then gives her a lingering kiss on the mouth. A horrible flash of the woman coming to life and in need of serious teeth cleaning suggests that Kai has some hardcore issues and a seriously damaged psyche. Because Kai’s mother never made out a will he inherits her creepy rundown house. Off we go to explore said creepy home, which looks as though it hasn’t been lived in for years. Pål Øie spends considerable time convincing us this is a scary place with lots and lots of shots of ugly dollies and the man clearly has never met a jump scare he didn’t like! Yes! It’s scary! I get it already! Among the items examined by Kai while walking through the house is a newspaper article detailing the 1989 accident, a Game Boy-like knockoff and a red ball. Items that are revisited a few times throughout the film. Are they relevant? Sort of. Attempting to try to explain the rest of the film and what my issues were with it made my head ache! BE WARNED! THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH CONTAINS KEY PLOT POINTS THAT COULD BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS!!!
SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!! IF YOU ARE READING THIS PARAGRAPH, YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN THE FILM, OR YOU JUST CAN’T HELP YOURSELF!! Skjult has one of those is it real or isn’t real type plots which can work so beautifully when done well. As the film evolves Øie throws more and more strangeness into the mix and key plot points get overshadowed. I like weirdness and symbolism in films, but the characters (with the exception of the hotel clerk) are never quirky, eccentric or interesting enough to pull it off. Why some of the supporting characters react the way they do remains a mystery. The townsfolk as he is told by his cop buddy aren’t too happy to see him back in town. But why? He was a child who was tormented by his mother and escaped 19 years previous! What problem could they possibly have? Not to mention he was kept hidden by his mother in a secret room, it wasn’t like he was out playing with the other kids. Kai at one point shows the cop his badly scarred torso and she seems quite surprised. But in an earlier scene she tells Kai that she has read his file a 100 times and he moved from one foster home to another. How do you end up in the foster system with no investigation of your parents and the horrific abuse was never mentioned? And what of mom; an important part of the story? How did she die? When did she stop living in the house? Was she institutionalized or hospitalized? Øie also includes a few “odes” to other films that share some similar plot devices. Most of these odes take place at the hotel he is staying in. Øie literally takes the bar scene from The Shining and plops it into his film. In yet another scene at the hotel he throws in a bit that reminded me of one of Agent Coopers dream sequences from Twin Peaks. The hotel clerk is sitting in an over-sized armchair with her legs crossed with a picture of a giant waterfall behind her and says something like “Can you hear the screaming in the waterfall?” And then whispers in his ear to check in the woods. Saying I had some issues with the plot development would be an understatement.
What I really found tiring in Skjult is the amount of clichés used. Pål Øie really needed to use a little restraint here! Jump scares start to lose their impact for me when they are just piled on top of each other. There is only so many times someone can yell “BOO!” at me and expect me to be freaked. The shots of the creepy dolls are ridiculously overused. The dolls are wrapped up in bandages, which perhaps are supposed to symbolize child abuse. The sheer volume hurt the impact of their creepiness. There are literally mountains of dolls and it left me feeling like perhaps Kai’s mom once tried to start a line of bondage dolls that failed miserably. There are two areas in which Skjult definitely succeeds. The film really looks great and the cinematography is impressive. Much of Skjult is filmed in dark rooms, but I never once had to strain to see the action. Colouring is lush and adds a beautiful spookiness. Technically speaking the film is almost perfect. The acting, particularly from Kristoffer Joner is excellent. His psychologically damaged and embittered performance as Kai Koss is spot on. The underlining story idea was interesting and quite creepy but is far too convoluted. The poorly developed plot and clichés overpowered its beauty and Joner’s great performance. I didn’t feel the film failed completely so I gave it a pass but I don’t really recommend it.
Dungeon Rating: 2.5/5
Directed By: Pål Øie
Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Marko Iversen Kanic, Anders Danielsen Lie, Cecilie A. Mosli, Karin Park, Julie Rusti, Eivind Sander, Jon Sigve Skard, Bjarte Hjelmeland