By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Hide & Seek"; Cast: Purab Kohli, Arjan Bajwa, Mrinalini Sharma, Samir Kochhar, Amruta Patki, Ayaz Khan; Director: Shawn Arranha; Rating: ** 1/2
So whodunit? Put a bunch of assorted 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 but eerie mall. The polished surfaces of the mall glisten with a glorious promise of gore. This, we've got to see.
Luckily, the unravelling of the mystery of the murderous mall is not a disappointment. "Hide & Seek" packs in 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.
Once the six friends-turned-enemies are clamped shut in the mall, the plot thickens in rapid fire motions. The characters, including a north Indian-hating Marathi politician, played rather loudly by Arjan Bajwa, and a nerd-turned-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.
On occasions, the characters are driven into postures of terror more by exterior forces 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' stalks her down the washroom.
So what's "Hide & Seek" really about? Is it about six high school friends 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-zag through the serpentine corridors?
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 in 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, 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.
Bollywood.com Rating: 3