Hideaways, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a strange little film steeped in magical realism and fairy-tale symbolism. But while it's often lovely to look at, it's not fleshed out, or consistent, enough to make it more than a simple romantic drama.
Through a female voiceover, we learn about the three generations of Furlong men and their strange powers. Although the first two are borne of childhood traumas -- for instance, glimpsing his parents having sex leads Grandpa to go blind at the mere thought of intercourse -- there's no real explanation for James' unfortunate ability.
James (Harry Treadaway of Fish Tank and City of Ember) can kill by accident when in distress, it seems, beginning when his mother passes away in childbirth. Whatever the trigger is, when it happens the grass around his prone body withers, people die gruesomely, cows fall over, birds drop from the sky. After several horrible incidents, he finds refuge in a shack in the woods.
We're given to believe James' desire to learn his own "talent" is what activates it. However, if his terrible ability manifested in utero, why did it take so long for it to re-emerge? Is it the threat of bodily harm that causes him to kill? Is it anger? Is it fear? This is important to know because one might presume that the sudden appearance of the beautiful Mae-West O'Hara (Rachel Hurd-Wood of Perfume) on his doorstep would lead to her immediate annihilation. Instead, this encounter somehow leads to friendship and, eventually, romance.
Mae is, of course, running from her own death-dealing secret, the tumor growing inside her. Coincidentally, cancer is passed down through her family. Mae is beautiful, brave and bold; she is too close to death to care about swimming in her underwear in the presence of a lurking woodsman or worry about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Hurd-Wood's screen presence makes Mae seem more dimensional than she really is. She is the person to break through to James, but why? Is it simply because she assures him she's not scared of him? That he can't hurt her? That she's already dying? That she's beautiful and he's a guy who's lived out in the woods by himself for too long?
James shies away from her while also being drawn to her, but Treadaway communicates this mostly by looking through his hair -- his wild-man wig is distracting if not deeply unsettling -- and acting skittish. He reveals his past to Mae in one fell swoop, which is a fairly lazy form of exposition; it doesn't come in bits and pieces when he decides to open up. Mae's backstory, as flimsy as it is, at least comes in a more naturalistic way. There are other niggling plot holes not particularly worth mentioning, but sloppy nonetheless.
The story itself holds a promise that is, unfortunately, not kept. The strength of director Agnès Merlet's ripe vision isn't enough to keep Hideaways afloat, although the striking visual effects and beauty of the sets -- even the antiseptic hospital and its sad wards -- have stayed with me long after the story itself.