© 2005 Ray Wong
One might think that HIDE AND SEEK is a spooky ghost story with a child at the center, perhaps with a great mystery in it, a la THE SIXTH SENSE. Unfortunately, what turns out on celluloid is nothing close to that.
David Calloway (De Niro) is a New York psychiatrist who just lost his wife (Irving) to suicide. His daughter Emily (Fanning) saw the ordeal and was traumatized by the experience. To help his daughter recover, David decides to move away from the city, to a small resort town despite Emily's doctor Katherine's (Janssen) protest. He and Emily settle in a big old house by the lake, with no one around except a lonely couple (Leo, Burke) as neighbors.
While at the remote house, Emily starts to exhibit strange behaviors. She's highly antisocial and has severe mood swings. She starts to talk of an imaginary friend Charlie. At first David doesn't think much of it, only documenting her behaviors as stress and trauma related. Then strange and violent things happen, and Emily blames them all on Charlie. At the same time, David meets town resident Elizabeth (Shue) and Emily is not pleased with that. When tragedy strikes, David must now figure out what is really going on. Is Charlie real? Or is Emily an evil incarnate?
De Niro (MEET THE FOCKERS) is one of the best actors of our time, but lately he's been doing some crappy films. Sadly, David Calloway is not a good role for him either. It is a two-dimensional character, leaving De Niro with nothing better to do than to act confused, befuddled or cranky. He's way too old to have a young child like Emily. Even with his acting ability, he still can't rise above the material -- that must say something about the material itself. Fanning (MAN ON FIRE) is a good young actress. Unfortunately, she's reduced to a role that shows only three emotions: spaced out, shocked and sad.
The supporting cast don't fare much better either. Irving (TUCK EVERLASTING) has so little to do it's an utter waste. Shue (MYSTERIOUS SKIN) can use a stronger role to help her career. Baker (KINSEY) is rather creepy as the town sheriff, but his role only serves one purpose. Leo (21 GRAMS) and Burke (CONNIE AND CARLA) are hugely wasted in their minor roles. Janssen (X2), whose character shows the clearest motivation and conviction, has the potential of doing something good here, but the effort doesn't pan out after all.
I won't blame the actors, however. There are two major problems with HIDE AND SEEK, and they are monumental problems. One is the script. Written by Schlossberg (whose only other credit is LUCKY 13), the script is full of holes and thin as ice. Much of the story can be categorized as red herrings: characters and situations that are manufactured for one purpose only -- trying to fool the audience. Alas! The audience is too smart for it. There's absolutely no character development and we could hardly care for anyone, dead or alive. We want to root for the film, and we hope something good is going to come our way. We wait, and wait, and wait. Nothing happens. What we think is a supernatural or a psychological thriller turns out to be a cheap imitation. A boring one at that. It's highly predictable (10 minutes into the film I knew what the climatic twist would be) despite all the tricks Schlossberg employs. One can’t help but compare this film to last year's SECRET WINDOW (down to the dead animal and the "motivation"). Now, that was a good movie.
The second problem with the film is the direction. The only way for director Polson (SWIMFAN) to pull this thin film together is by adding fillers: long, dragging scenes of nothingness, spooky camera moves, mood scenes, situations that make no sense to the plot, and dialogue that doesn't go anywhere. Time would be better spent on developing the characters. What's a psychological thriller without really believable, even sympathetic characters? As it is, the film could have been trimmed to 40 minutes and it would have been a better film. As it is, the film is a big waste of time and we're better off hiding from it then to seek it out in theaters, TV or DVD.
Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Femke Janssen, Elizabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, Robert John Burke
Director: John Polson
Writer: Ari Schlossberg
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: R for fright and violence
Running Time: 100 minutes
Script – 3
Performance – 6
Direction – 4
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 6
Total – 5.3 out of 10