Come out come out whatever you are
Running Time: 0 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Although he is an acclaimed actor of both stage and screen in his native Australia, where he also directed ‘Siam Sunset’, winning the Rail d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, John Polson debuted in Hollywood at the helm of Swimfan (2002), which for all its excellent acting and taut atmosphere was strictly a thriller-by-numbers, adding little or nothing to the female-stalker flicks (‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘Poison Ivy’, ‘Single White Female’ etc.) that it so shamelessly ripped off. Sadly, the same is true of his second American feature, the equally derivative ‘Hide and Seek’, which takes a potentially terrifying premise and turns it unintentionally into something like farce.
After the tragic death of his wife Alison (Amy Irving), psychologist David (Robert De Niro) decides – against the advice of family friend and child psychologist Katherine (Famke Janssen) – to move his deeply traumatised daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) from the big city to the quieter life of a house in the woodlands where he can concentrate on being “a full-time dad”. There Emily makes a new imaginary friend in Charlie – something which David at first encourages, until Emily’s behaviour becomes increasingly deranged, things go bump in the night, and even David begins to suspect that Charlie may be more than just a figment of his daughter’s disturbed mind – and whoever Charlie may be (the nosy local cop, the estate agent who keeps odd hours, one of the weird neighbours, Alison returned from the grave), he sure has a grudge against David and his new girlfriend Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue).
It would be criminal to reveal the twist to ‘Hide and Seek’ – let’s just say that anyone who has been keeping up with recent horror films from South Korea or France will not find the ending too much of a surprise. More important, though, is the way the twist is handled by the film, and this is where ‘Hide and Seek’ goes wrong, revealing its hand about fifteen minutes too early, and then dissolving into a ridiculous cat-and-mouse chase that is too trite to maintain any level of tension. Certainly Ari Schlossberg’s debut screenplay, best appreciated on a second viewing, is impressively crammed from its very first page with appropriately cryptic references to what is really going on – but this does not excuse the sheer number of elaborate but poorly integrated subplots which, once recognised for the red herrings that they are, seem to add little to the film beyond their own duration, leaving the viewer to feel not so much cleverly outwitted by the film as cheated and robbed. Worst of all – and this can only be attributed to the film’s direction – the woodland setting, flagged from the outset as a terrain of terror (“I was always scared of the woods”, as David says near the beginning), is desperately underused and fails entirely to inspire any horror.
As a loving if slightly uptight father, Robert De Niro has little more to do here than reproduce his recent performances from Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, so filmgoers who have been waiting years to see him stop parodying himself and actually live up to the expectations of his glory days in the seventies and eighties are going to have to wait a little while longer. Dakota Fanning, on the other hand, is probably the finest actor of her generation, and her screen presence has always been a little, well, creepy, so she is well cast here as Emily – it is just a pity that ‘Hide and Seek’ is yet another example, along with Uptown Girls and The Cat in the Hat, of Fanning’s propensity to attach herself to projects that do not match up to her talents.
It's Got: Doll mutilation; alarming graffiti; creepy closets and bathtubs; and a welcome appearance by Dylan Baker (best known for his child-molesting turn in Todd Solondzs Happiness) as the local Sheriff.
It Needs: To delay the revelation of its solution till later, to integrate its red herrings more closely, and to have an ending that is thrilling and frightening rather than just funny.
If you hear a count-up in 'Hide and Seek', that's only because it's another psychological thriller by numbers.