There’s always been something… off about actor Kyle MacLachlan. On the surface, MacLachlan is a traditionally handsome actor. In his performances, he can exude deep empathy or be a total prick. However, he always comes across as one step removed from society, an otherworldly presence. One of the great missed opportunities is he never got to play Clark Kent/Superman; an otherworldly all American type. It’s why he and David Lynch make for such natural collaborators.
Maybe the best showcase for this though isn’t a David Lynch project though he’s great in all of his collaborations with Lynch. In Jack Shoulder’s The Hidden, MacLachlan plays FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher. Clearly on the surface this is an example of a clean cut, 1980s American. A career focused individual. Someone that would be a Reagan era ideal. Yet from his first scene, Gallagher exudes this eerie presence. He shows up uninvited, unannounced, and asking about a now dead lunatic. He presents authority but the audience understands he doesn’t actually possess it. Is it Gallagher’s youth? His physicality? The fact he knows more than he’s letting on to his new partner Michael Nouri’s Thomas Beck? Beck knows something’s up.
Early on, the audience learn the criminal he chases is an alien and by extension, we realize Gallagher is too. The brilliance of The Hidden is that it’s a story of two immigrants and what they get out of the American experience. For the nameless body hopping antagonist, Earth/America is a land of opportunity. If there’s something it wants, it just takes it. This creature colonizes humans for its own gain. Guns, Ferraris, and heavy metal are its pursuits. If that causes murder and mayhem, so be it. This world and country offer untold new experiences and sensations. When it declares “I want to be president”, there’s no doubt it would initiate nuclear war for amusement. This thing came to Earth and America to do as it pleases.
Gallagher starts the film as someone whose drive is the pursuit of his prey. As the film progresses, his character unfolds. Up to this point, its obvious Gallagher follows Beck’s lead in trying to look human. This all falls apart in the beautiful scene where Gallagher eats dinner with Beck’s family. Beck’s wife asks standard questions to him; what’s Seattle is like (he doesn’t answer), where he’s from (tellingly he points up), and finally about his family. MacLachlan plays it quiet here. He remains eerie and alien. However, he’s deeply empathetic revealing Gallagher’s wife and child are dead. It’s maybe the most emotion displayed by this character to this point. Here is where we realize Earth/American isn’t where he finds his prey in what’s possibly a centuries long pursuit. This is a place he can erase the past and start over.
Jack Sholder filters these journeys through the vocabulary 1980s action filmmaking. All of the scenes with the antagonist become an 80s action movie played to 11. The car chases are incredibly fast. Anytime it’s in a gun fight, the weapons only get bigger with each scene. This alien creature seems to take joy in the fact it can’t feel pain, allowing every gunfight to turn its host into Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, Gallagher and Beck seem to be in a buddy cop drama. They bicker about who they’re chasing and how to catch them. Gallagher withholds relevant information partly because Beck won’t believe him. Possibly because it amuses him. Yet these interactions allow him to become more human. If anything, being seen in these forms of filmmaking allows both aliens to critique both the excesses of the 1980s and the American experience.
If not for Kyle MacLachlan’s performance and Jack Sholder’s excellent direction, The Hidden might have been an 80s VHS curiosity. An episode of the Outer Limits put on steroids. Instead, this is a film about two outsiders who come to America. One see it as a place exploit to their various vices. The other slowly realizes this is where they will start a new life. It’s science fiction pedigree cleverly hides we’re watching a uniquely American story.