Roy Tunt is a compulsive-obsessive ornithologist who plans to spend the day in a bird hide. He managed to just catch sight of a rare bird a while back at this very location, on the mudflats of a large river. Patiently waiting until the conditions were replicated exactly, he is very excited about the possibility of being able to officially document the sighting of this rare species. Things are going well until a dark stranger barges into the hide. Roy is clearly upset by this rude intrusion, but the stranger is also clearly upset as well. But as the day goes on, the two men–who couldn’t be more different–forge a unique bond as each one learns about the other.
Alex MacQueen stars as Roy Tunt, a bookish and socially inept intellectual who is clearly uncomfortable around people. MacQueen plays the part perfectly, and as the audience is introduced to Tunt, we realize that here is a man doomed to loneliness because of his unfortunate quirks. As Tunt enters, he trades his waders for a more comfortable pair of shoes and then begins to lay out all of the items he has brought. As he organizes various notebooks, guidebooks, cameras, and binoculars, he obsessively arranges and rearranges each item, sometimes coming back to slightly move an item two or three times. Outwardly Tunt’s life seems highly organized, but you just know his personal life must be a bit of a shambles. But he seems happy enough, even bringing a picture of his wife along to talk to through the long day. MacQueen, thin, balding, and dressed in tie and sweater vest, plays the character with pitch-perfect quirkiness. You actually feel sorry for this poor soul whom you know must have suffered his entire life at the hands of more callous people.
Phil Campbell plays the dark, brooding stranger who is clearly on edge. As the film moves along, we learn his name is David John. David is obviously distraught. He’s tired, hungry and rumpled. He brings with him a bottle of whiskey as well as a gun that he carefully keeps concealed from his new companion, Roy. It just so happens that a police chopper is combing the mudflats around the hide and Roy’s walkie talkie is able to pick up snippets of the man hunt going on in the area. The police warn that the man is presumed to be armed and dangerous. Campbell also does an excellent job portraying a man in desperation. His character seems to be on edge much like an animal treed by a pack of dogs.
As the day slowly ticks by, the two men get to know each other in fits and starts of conversation. We learn that Roy’s wife left him for another man two years ago and that he has been downsized by his company after many years. Unable to find satisfying work and missing his wife terribly, he spends his days at his hobby, which is bird-watching. In one poignant scene, Roy tells David that the last contact he had with his wife was a telegram she sent him telling him to leave her alone. "Not even a ‘Dear Roy’ at the beginning," he says. There are occasional moments of sadness as the two men lay bare their souls, but there are also moments of humor, as in the scene where David sees Roy’s last name on the chalkboard in the hide. When he asks Roy what "Tunt" means, Roy explains it is his surname. David grunts humorously and replies, "I bet that name gave you problems." Roy’s reply shows his lack of understanding as he chuckles and says, "Oh, yes, I had lots of nicknames…like Roy Rogers, Roy Boy…." He completely misses David’s point. Later on, when Roy finds out the name of his new companion is two first names, the two challenge each other to a friendly match of identifying famous people with two first names, like Cliff Richards and Elton John. "There’s a name for that," Roy says, meaning the descriptive word for someone with two first names. David is quick with a witty comeback and replies, "Gay," since the last name they called was Elton John.
Things get a bit more tense as the police chopper inches slowly closer as it sweeps the mudflats. We see haunting flashbacks of memory, crows eating human body parts, as David grapples with recent occurrences. Has he killed someone? Has he escaped from the police? It certainly seems so. At one point, he greedily eats three sandwiches offered by Roy, nearly swallowing them whole (the sandwiches become an important part of the film toward the end). He explains he hasn’t eaten in several days. But as the film progresses there is a nifty twist that will surely throw the audience off balance. It will completely change the audience’s perspective of these two men. To say more would be to completely ruin this wonderful little film.
Based on a play and with only two characters and one set, director Marek Losey does a superb job with some very difficult material. The danger here is that the film can quickly become boring if the two actors aren’t able to work well together. But Losey keeps the film moving along at a brisk pace and the dialogue witty and interesting. By the third act, the tension between the two characters has increased to edge-of-your-seat levels. The wonderful musical score only serves to heighten this tension.
The Hide is a great, low-budget thriller. Made in 2008, it is only now crossing the pond and seeing distribution in the U.S. Vicious Circle and parent company Breaking Glass Pictures is releasing the film in September, and it deserves to be seen. Emotional, quirky and ultimately surprising with its huge twist near the end, you can’t miss with The Hide, so look for it coming soon at www.breakingglasspictures.com.