The Hide (15)

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The Independent Culture

Part of the ICA's New British Cinema season, The Hide is a modestly scaled but cleverly written chamber piece, and a refuge from the blare of Terminator Salvation.

Adapted from his play by Tim Whitnall, it forces two men into an encounter that slowly comes to the boil with sinister intent. Fortyish, fanatical birdwatcher Roy (Alex Macqueen) is waiting for a glimpse of the elusive "sociable plover" in a remote hide on the Suffolk marshlands. He's just set up with his sandwiches and a photograph of his ex-wife when an agitated stranger arrives, introducing himself as Dave (Philip Campbell).

They appear to have nothing in common – Roy is fastidious, secretive, southern, Dave is uncouth, direct, northern – but in the course of an afternoon together they discover common ground, albeit only a shared love of power tools. Whitnall has a good ear for the uneasy bravado, and the offence too easily taken, of British men obliged to pass the time together. The displays of offbeat knowledge and the sallies of aggression are also true to a type. When Dave learns that Roy's surname is "Tunt", he speculates that he must have had an awful time at school, "with a name like that". Oh yes, Roy agrees, chuckling: "Roy of the Rovers, Roy this, Roy that..."

The first-time director Marek Losey (grandson of Joseph) controls the atmosphere rigorously, his camera slinking around the hide's narrow space like a sly, watchful cat. When Roy hears on his shortwave radio that police are hunting for a man in the area, a Hitchcockian thrill of danger enters the picture, carefully prefigured by the visual clues – a bird tattoo, a handgun, a pair of binoculars. Credit also the superb underplaying by the two actors, Campbell coiled and terse, Macqueen prissily pedantic and controlling. When Dave asks Roy if he sees his ex-wife still, Macqueen delivers the line so beautifully – "In my dreams" – that it's only later you hear the ambiguity of his words. This tense two-hander, brooded upon by thunder clouds and pasty light, serves up some strong meat.

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