out of Five
Running time: 101
Brilliantly cast but ultimately laughable thriller that squanders its initially intriguing set-up.
Australian director John Polson made his American debut with the flawed-but-promising Teen Fatal Attraction thriller Swimfan. His follow-up feature is another, equally-flawed thriller, this time with a big name cast and one of those high-profile publicity campaigns that begs you not to reveal the twist, thereby revealing that there is a twist and promptly spoiling it for anyone who has ever seen a film with a twist in it.
Ludicrous Final Reel Destroys Film
Hide and Seek isn't exactly a disaster (it is, at any rate, better than Godsend, DeNiro's last attempt at a thriller), but all the good work built up by Polson's direction and the performances comes crashing to the ground in the ludicrous final reel.
Robert DeNiro plays Dr David Callaway, whose wife (Amy Irving) has recently committed suicide. Concerned for his disturbed daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning), he takes her to live in a large house in Upstate New York, away from Manhattan and the memories of her mother.
However, it isn't long before strange things start happening in the house (toys broken, messages written in blood on the walls, pets getting killed, all the usual stuff), things that Emily blames on her new imaginary friend, "Charlie". Is Emily, as the psychiatrists say, "acting out"? Is she possessed? Or is Charlie an actual, physical presence? Woo. Etc.
The one thing the film has in its favour is that it is brilliantly cast. Dakota Fanning is an extremely creepy actress at the best of times and Hide and Seek uses that to great effect. Also, just because she has her blonde hair dyed dark brown in this film, doesn't make her look like any less of a Midwich Cuckoo child and her reading of the simple line, "Chaaaarlie, Chaaaarlie" (used in the trailer) may well be the scariest thing in the film.
Similarly, Robert DeNiro is surely no-one's idea of a perfect Screen Dad, so he's equally well cast as a cold, emotionally withdrawn father.
In fact, the film is practically a Who's Who of vaguely creepy actors, since it also features Dylan Baker as a vaguely creepy cop, Amy Irving as Emily's vaguely creepy mother and Robert John Burke as a vaguely creepy neighbour. The film also cleverly gives us not one but two leading ladies (Elisabeth Shue and Famke Janssen) so we can have fun guessing which of them won't make it to the final reel.
Effective Shocks Before Script Nosedives
Helped by his cast, Polson does a good job of creating a suspenseful atmosphere and the shocks in the first half of the film are effective enough. Unfortunately, the script then takes a rapid nose-dive into the arena of the ridiculous and promptly squanders all the film's potential.
Amongst the more laughable moments are: Emily's flick-book about Mommy slitting her wrists; the neighbour who gets to utter the giggle-inducing line, "No! I've already said too much!" and a climax that is guaranteed to either annoy you or render you helpless with laughter; at any rate it's far too stupid to be scary.
In short, Hide and Seek is just about worth seeing if you're a fan of Bad Movies and want to have fun laughing at it. Otherwise, it's probably best to let it continue hiding and only seek it out when it shows up on TV or something.