The debut feature from Joanna Coates, Hide and Seek (2014) is a sensual attempt to examine the psychological mindset of a generation in stasis. Things become complicated when a quartet of Londoners choose to reject society’s preordained laws and build a new model for living, with the true meaning of Coates’ film hidden beneath a tangled web of flesh and desire. After an ambiguous opening shot of a burning coffin in field, Coates introduces us to Hide and Seek’s four good-looking protagonists. They loosely discuss where they’re going and what they’re planning, but the details are fuzzy and we’re never entirely sure what has forced them to undertake such a drastic lifestyle change.
We gradually learn that the group are setting up a polyamorous commune, a place where they can live in total isolation. They’ve relinquished material things, rejected the 9-5 status quo of modernity and have agreed to disregard society’s predilection for monogamous unions. Relations are strained to begin with, but a series of parlour games and curious rules soon allow the group to abandon their inhibitions and merge as one. A film comprised of youthful energy and mystery, Coates has fashioned a visually exquisite interrogation of the emotional lives of Generation Y. Making the most of some severely limited resources, Hide and Seek is an extremely thoughtful example of how, even on a tight production budget, it’s possible to make an aesthetically arresting, intelligent British indie drama.
While Coates might be sparing with information regarding her characters’ motivations, there’s a distinct sense of mystery and intrigue that immerses us into this secular world and leaves us groping for answers. Expressing ideas of kinship, love and conformity through a series of intricately framed, extended takes, Coates has appropriated elements of Joanna Hogg’s divisive middle-class social realism and imparted it onto the vapid, disenfranchised lives of her despondent twentysomethings. Coates should also be commended for her depiction of sex and nudity, refreshingly conveying the subjectivity of both her male and female cast in equal measure. Somewhat frustratingly, however, beneath the film’s beautiful veneer of generational malaise, very little actually appears to be going on. To truly explore the melancholy of the privileged and rich may have demanded a deeper investigation into the mindset of Hide and Seek’s protagonists.
As it stands, this crucial lack of exposition makes it hard to tear through the insipid and self-centred demeanour of each character. The image of a burning casket which foreshadows proceedings alludes to a dark and sinister enquiry into their lives, so when a fifth character encroaches on their cosy collective, the situation looks like bubbling over into an eruption of repressed emotion. Yet instead, we get an incredibly empty and mundane encounter. Here, Coates could be trying to make a comment on the fear of the ‘other’ in a society – built on individualism or the xenophobia implicit within a climate of fear – though neither of these themes are effectively communicated. Thematically charged but too often directionless, Hide and Seek drifts from one scene to another, perhaps mirroring the bewilderment of today’s disenfranchised youth.
The 68th Edinburgh Film Festival takes place from 18-29 June 2014. For more of our EIFF coverage, follow this link.