Hide and Seek takes an intriguing first hour of buildup and flushes it down the toilet by downgrading itself to another “killer on the loose” fable that has been done time and again as of late. This is all thanks to, of course, the near-given surprise “twist” that is in nearly every suspense/horror film made these days. What starts out as an interesting foundation on the feelings and depression after a daughter loses her mother is quickly slapped back into the Hollywood horror pipeline of predictability.
I will purposefully tread carefully on plot details, as Fox has reportedly taken extra measures to ensure that the “twist” is not revealed before opening day.
Psychologist David Callaway (DeNiro) is leading a seemingly happy life with his wife, Alison ( Irving) and daughter Emily (Fanning). Things quickly turn traumatic, however, when David finds his wife dead in their bathtub after having committed suicide. Emily sees David holding Alison’s dead body in his arms and is horrified, scarred, and depressed from that moment on.
Months later Emily has still not recovered and has become a virtual recluse in her room. She barely speaks, and when she does it is usually dark and ominous feelings. To try and break her out of the funk, David buys a home in upstate New York to live in. It’s out in the country, quiet, and peaceful. There are a handful of locals who immediately embrace David and Emily’s arrival, including Elizabeth (Shue) and her daughter, Amy (Molly Grant Kallins). Things begin to take a positive turn.
Positive, that is, until Emily begins speaking of her new friend, Charlie. David immediately assumes that Charlie is Emily’s imaginary friend, and his psychologist friend back home, Katherine (Janssen), echoes the sentiment. It’s not so uncommon, afterall, for emotionally scarred and reclusive children to have imaginary friends. But soon unexplainable events begin happening, leading David to believe that Charlie may not be so imaginary after all.
From here I will cease with the details and leave those to the discovery of anyone who decides to see the film, which is something I don’t recommend doing. After an fairly intriguing and nicely built-up first hour, the big “twist” occurs and the film spirals out of control from there.
The critical error that Hide and Seek makes is the decision to reveal its big secret little more than halfway through the film. This, in the end, leaves way too much time for ultra-cliched walks down dark hallways and lame jolts in the soundtrack. The film hits a brick wall when this happens, and it had a decent head of steam going into it.
The fact that the film isn’t remotely scary is ultimately beside the point, as it never really yearns to be more than a creepy crawly scary kid movie. The screenplay is so full of cliched situations, not to mention scenes that really don’t make much sense at all, that all momentum is lost in a storm of the ordinary.
Dakota Fanning proves once again that she is the most talented young actress working in Hollywood today. It’s just a shame that she is stuck in such a lackluster story. Looking quite a bit like Wednesday Addams, she easily turns in the best performance of anyone involved, and she plays the character to a T. I have no doubt that we will see her in similar roles down the line, but let’s just hope she gets a better screenplay if that’s the case.
Robert DeNiro appears to be getting his yearly “what was I thinking?” role out of the way in the first month of 2005. He never acts particularly interested in the material and hams it up by the minute during the film’s second half. By the end of the film he is really nothing more than a caricature that got more than a few chuckles from the audience. Why an actor as distinguished and respected as much as DeNiro still takes roles like this is beyond me, but this performance will ultimately go down as an embarrassment.
The supporting cast is either wasted or ultimately unnecessary to the story. It’s nice to see Elisabeth Shue back on screen, but she is never given much of a chance to make an impact. She disappears and reappears at opportune times, and it’s never believable for an instant that she would be interested in romancing David. Famke Janssen is given the thankless role of being David’s go-to girl for psychological advice, and it’s pretty safe to say that neither her nor David are remotely good psychologists. Other disposable characters include Dylan Baker as the Barney Fife-like Sheriff Hafferty and Robert John Burke as the mysterious neighbor, Steven.
Newcomer writer Ari Schlossberg (his only other writing credit is in last year’s Lucky 13) doesn’t pepper his script with much originality and makes that crucial error of revealing the big secret too early on. He does show promise in building up tension, but resorting to formula is the easiest way to kill it, this film being case in point. Director John Polson gives the film a nice, dark look. His direction is competent, if not predictable due to the flaws in the story.
Hide and Seek, sadly enough, is another throwaway January leftover. It seems more and more like all suspense/horror films these days are identical. What starts out as a promising take on a very serious issue is minced into another standard Hollywood offering. Hide and Seek – stick to playing it in the privacy of your own home.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: R for frightening sequences and violence.
Theatrical Release: January 28, 2005
Directed by: John Polson
Written by: Ari Schlossberg
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker