“Hide & Seek packs a punch” – Subhash K Jha

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So whodunit? Put a bunch of assorted dysfunctional men and women into a shopping mall not to shop, but to get bumped off. And voila, the whodunit takes the characters to shop until they drop , one by one.

There’s a Santa Claus with a hatchet in hand running around the deathly-still sparkling-clean spotless and eerily blood-thirsty mall. By jove, the polished surfaces of the mall glisten with a glorious promise of gore. This, we’ve got to see.

Luckily the unraveling of the mystery of the murderous mall is not a disappointment. Hide & Seek packs a punch.

Srikant Saroj’s camera stalks the corridors with a restless energy. The whole project seems to have been conceived and designed so that an emptied-out shopping mall could be used as a venue for some hardcore scares. Hide & Seek offers a terrain of mild terror , more in the thought(dark empty mall, no exit) than execution.

Once the sextet of helter-skelter friends-turned-enemies is clamped shut in the lap of shivery luxury the plot thickens in rapidfire motions. The characters including a North-Indian-hating Marathi politician (ahem) played rather loudly by Arjan Bajwa and a nerd turned beefy filmstar played by Ayaz Khan, create a stifling circle of tension, some of it palpable, others pale.

On the whole the mayhem-in-the-mall holds together generating a mix of the hazy crazy and sometimes just the lazy.

On occasions the characters are driven into postures of terror more by exterior forces (scared people running in an empty mall is a great turn-on) rather than by a genuine sense of plotting urgency. The most heart-in-the-mouth moments feature debutante Amruta Patki caught alone in a movie theatre and later cowering in a ladies toilet as Santa With The Axe(‘axe’ no questions he tells no lies) stalks her down the squeaky-clean washroom.

So, what’s Hide & Seek really about? Is it about 6 ‘high’ school friends (everyone is high on some unnamed drug or the other) who once got caught in a party plastered with jealousy intrigue rape and murder? Or is it just mayhem in a mall caught on a camera that knows how to zig and zag through the serpentine corridors without knocking into hard surfaces?

Either way the film offers interesting possibilities of high anxiety. Debutant director Shawn Arranha displays skill and control in the way the individually aggravated characters are kept in check when they come into contact with one another. The performances are enthusiastic, Purab Kohli being particularly interesting to watch as a mentally disturbed young man who thinks love is just a wish away.

Some of the acting does get over-the-top although the director seems to avoid excess as much as he can in a film belonging to genre where gore is glory.

Grant the film a few extra points for inventiveness. Also for a slasher movie the slash-and-maim quotient is minimal. And the end-game where we the audience are played with as much wicked relish as the characters, is the kind of twist amateur whodunits revel in.

For an evening of chills this one is sufficiently equipped. But don’t look for too much more in the haunted shopping mall than meets the eye.

** 1/2

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