The Hide

The Hide


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

One claustrophobic location, two men, and a relationship that shifts with the flood tide. That, in a nutshell, is The Hide, the feature debut of ad-man Marek Losey, and a film that far exceeds the limitations imposed by its low budget and small scale.

It is a dark and stormy day on the Isle of Sheppey. Twitcher Roy Tunt (Alex MacQueen) has come to a remote bird-watching hide in the hope of spotting a sociable plover, so that he can place 'that last triumphant tick' on his checklist of ornithological species recorded in the British Isles.

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Roy is something of a rare bird himself – pedantic, fussy and maybe a little smug, wearing a waistcoat and sporting a pen gifted to him by his mother, he constantly chirps away to himself or to the framed photo of his estranged wife with a Ned Flanders-like cheeriness. It is the acceptable face of English eccentricity – Roy is perhaps not someone with whom you would want to spend a lot of time, but he is still someone whose petty pastimes, obsessive collecting and anal meticulousness are easily pigeon-holed as harmless individualism.

Into Roy's little world wanders Dave John (Phil Campbell), a rough, tattooed man of mystery whose guarded manner and quiet tones usher an air of undeniable menace into the bare wooden shack. Not only is he invading Roy's private space and disrupting his well-planned 'big day', but proletarian northerner Dave also presents the twitcher with a clash of culture and class.

Forced together by the bad weather, this odd couple begins to bond over Roy's chicken-paste sandwiches as well as conversation about the peculiarly masculine joy of power tools, "the benefits of AA membership", and their shared sense of unhappiness and personal failure.

"I like films," declares Dave. "Action ones, though. Thrillers." So he would be unlikely, we might surmise, to enjoy watching the semi-comic character drama with which The Hide opens – but then, that title conceals a double meaning, and as these two mismatched men idle away the afternoon chewing the fat and waiting for Godot, we are left to ponder the hidden significance of various tension-building elements in this minimal tale. There is that radio warning about a 'white male of average build' wandering the marshes who should be 'approached with caution'. There is the pistol that we know Dave is secretly packing. And there are Dave's recurrent, impressionistic flashbacks to an isolated field where bloody human remains are fought over by a murder of crows. Roy's day of bird-watching, it would seem, is set to explode.

Adapted by Tim Whitnall from his own stageplay (entitled The Sociable Plover), The Hide is a subtly drawn portrayal of masculinity in crisis, introducing all manner of stereotypes and clichés merely to subvert its own form and wrongfoot the viewer. For, much like the onomatopoeically named 'chiffchaff' whose cry is said by Roy to be able to "convey many different meanings", this is a film of double-entendres, innuendos and equivocal nuances, where words, looks and gestures alike are made to resonate with confounding ambiguity.

Are we watching a dramatic study in the lonely obsessions of twitching? A homoerotic slowdance? A murder mystery? Or something else entirely? All becomes clear in the end, but it is a twisty, twisted journey getting there. The sociable plover is, after all, hard to identify when well-hidden in a deceit of lapwings.

If the film's two-handed nature betrays somewhat its theatrical origins, the moody, bleached-out views of the coastal marshlands beyond lift The Hide right back to (modest) cinematic heights, while MacQueen (reprising his role from the play) and Campbell give soaring performances. In the end it is a memorably quirky one-off - a very English piece that does for bird-watching something like what Scotland's Trainspotting did for heroin abuse.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2009
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The Hide packshot
Masculinity and menace create a heady mix when two strangers meet in a bird hide.
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Director: Marek Losey

Writer: Tim Whitnall

Starring: Alex MacQueen, Phil Campbell

Year: 2008

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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