They Went to the Woods
Hide and Seek: the utopian rebellion will be improvised
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A group of photogenic young people tramp out into a rural wilderness, set themselves up in an isolated, probably abandoned old house, then eat, drink, and have sex until suddenly a mysterious "other" arrives. Violence may or may not ensue.
That's a fairly accurate description of everything from Sam Raimi's seminal Evil Dead to The Cabin in the Woods. It's also, however, a spoiler-free synopsis of the new film Hide and Seek, which, despite outward appearances, comes as somewhat more of a shock because it's not a horror film.
Directed by Joanna Coates and produced, co-written by, and co-starring former Austinite and Slacker 2011 co-producer Daniel Metz (the two are now married), Hide and Seek defies erroneous expectations with a story of youthful idealism that's more Henry David Thoreau than backcountry horror show.
Metz and his co-stars – Josh O'Connor, Rea Mole, Hannah Arterton, and Joe Banks – rivet both the eye and the intellect with performances so daringly naturalistic and honest that John Cassavetes might well be applauding in his grave. In an era where gloomy dystopian futurism is the norm, Hide and Seek is ultimately a film about a utopian rebellion. After all, what does the pursuit of happiness really mean?
The Austin Chronicle spoke to Metz about the film, which recently won the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Austin Chronicle: Hide and Seek really caught me off guard. Maybe I've been watching too many Ti West films, but your film is totally transgressive in ways that are completely unexpected and defiantly uncliched.
Daniel Metz: One of the main ways that [the story] could've gone down was that the characters decided to leave or somebody went crazy, but I think that film's been made many times before and I don't know how much we need to put that energy out into the world. The idea that people who try new things will fail just doesn't seem very sophisticated to me. A friend of mine said that we've done the most subversive thing we could do, which is to give the film sort of a happy ending.
AC: How much of what's on the screen was improv and how much was scripted? Because rhythmically it flows exactly like real life. That's extremely difficult to capture.
DM: The script was just a 40-page outline, scene by scene with descriptions. We had a month rehearsal period with actors where we worked out each scene and also some that weren't in the movie but that we thought the characters would need to go through. So we figured out the rhythm of each scene and roughly what the dialogue would sound like, but once we were on set all the dialogue was improvised.
AC: Even though the characters are about as far away from society and social norms as possible, the emotions they're feeling and the conversations they have are pretty momentous and reactionary. The absence of any sort of invasive technology is almost a character in itself.
DM: Absolutely. I think [the film] is about frustrated people who feel that there are things in the world today that are really alienating and discouraging. We had a scene in an early draft of the script where in the beginning they all take out their cell phones and smash them with hammers. Ultimately we thought that was a bit too over the top, but yeah, that was a big part of it.
At the same time, there are a lot of books and films about how when you feel that way – disenfranchised, alienated – when you feel like the world around you is not made for you, you should act on it. Thus political activism comes about and a significant counterculture comes about through that. This has been the lesson of so many previous generations.
The characters in [Hide and Seek], however, are saying that, "We're going to retreat as a form of protest." They're not trying to make the world a better place, they're only trying to make themselves better, and they can't do that [individually]. It's an alternative to political action because it supposes that there's no way to make things better. That's an idea that resonates in a lot of ways. I certainly think that a lot of people feel that they can't do anything about the world today.
Hide and Seek screens at the Stateside at the Paramount on Thursday, Nov. 6. A Q&A with Daniel Metz follows the screening.