Hide and Seek

You shouldn't bother looking for this one.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 02 Mar 2005 by Scott Morris
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Robert De Niro. Bob De Niro. Bobby D. No matter the name, the man has a pretty good claim to being the greatest actor alive on the face of the Earth (offer valid for as long as Bobby D remains alive). Having established this in such films as Goodfellas, he now seems content to pick and choose his appearances. Quite why he's picking the likes of Meet The Fockers and Godsend is a question only the wisest Oracle of them all can answer. In the absence of said Oracle, let us take a look at his latest outing, Hide and Seek, and wonder why he decided to appear in it and why the damn thing was made in the first place.

After the suicide of his wife, psychoanalyst David Callaway (B to the D) decides the best way for his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) to overcome the trauma is to move their metropolitan existence to upstate Noo Yawk. Retreating to a vastly oversized house in the small town of Woodland, they stop only to ponder why one man and a pre-teen girl would require a small mansion to live in, especially given that they have no housekeeping staff or owt. Perhaps due to the additional mental strain caused by this conundrum on top of her mother's death, Emily announces she has a new friend. Charlie would seem to be a mildly harmless imaginary friend, until Emily's behaviour takes a turn for the unusual.

Her understandable sullen and depressed demeanour grows darker and more disturbed. It seems as though Emily blames her father for her mother's death. She's also somewhat upset by the attention divorcee Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue, leading one to wonder which came first, the casting or the character name?) is lavishing upon David. Things eventually get out of hand, with events unfolding that seem beyond Emily's capability. Could Charlie be less of a figment of Emily's imagination than we'd assumed?

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This kind of setup may be distressing for the poor unfortunates who suffered through the exceptionally asinine Godsend, as on the basis of that we'd expect something supernaturally silly to occur. In a small mercy Hide and Seek has more sense than this, and settles for something more conventionally silly. You may or may not figure out the inevitable twist ending ahead of time using the Law of Conservation of Characters, but it's in spite of the movie's attempts at foreshadowing than because of it. It's barely believable, which isn't really the problem with it. The twist hits in after about, ooh, seventy minutes leaving a good twenty odd for it to flounder around digging bigger holes for itself. On the rare occasions twists are effective, they invariably come right at the death. Think Usual Suspects: Story, twist, credits, home. This lets you wander out of the cinema still mulling over the film, the crucial point being that you're less likely to sit and think of the inconsistences and plot holes the twist ending can bring.

Not as likely to give the same results if it's two thirds of the way through at it is here, as we're given ample opportunity to sit and think about how silly it all is. Mildly irritating is the way it glosses over several points that would inconveniently stop the twist from working at all by, erm, re-writing them. This is pretty much unforgivably lazy storytelling. While we're warned against casting stones, it does rather seem if at the writing stage someone thought a twist would be nifty, so dropped one in without bothering to think it through. It's the standard we'd expect from direct to video outings, not something with a reasonable budget and talented cast.

The name John Paulson may not mean much to the world at large, but everyone ought to memorise this name as a sign of danger no less potent than the stripes of a glorious hornet. Why is this thus? The reason for this thusness stems from the prior record of the man in the director's chair; He directed Swimfan. Run away! Run away! Well, okay, Hide and Seek is by no means as inexcusable as his past crime, but it's largely due to whatever blackmail technique he's used to assemble the cast.

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You saw the odd glimpse of De Niro's awe-inspiring talent in City by the Sea, here you see an absence of it until the final reel. It's amongst his weakest work, but bad De Niro is better than many other actors finest hours so we can't complain too much about his role in the less-than-gripping finale. Supporting actresses Shue and Famke Janssen, one of Callaway's shrink buddies, wind up with little to do bar look pretty. This they do admirably.

Dakota Fanning turns out to be nothing like as irritating as it would seem she'd be from the trailer. Given some fairly thankless surly tasks to perform early doors, by the time the credits are rolling all but the most curmudgeonly should have at least a little sympathy for the tyke. Fair play to the kid, just a shame it's undermined by the overarching silliness of it all.

Hide and Seek isn't unwatchable, and it's no worse than the bulk of the psychological horrors aimed roughly at a teen audience. De Niro certainly lifts the movie, even if this isn't exactly his A-game. It's just a pity it's tacked onto a poorly thought out script, a mediocre execution and a tragic sense of opportunities and talent wasted. Were anyone lesser than the mighty Bobby D in the lead role this would be getting the unenviable one star treatment, and probably wouldn't make in past one showing on an American cable station. Avoid unless there's really no alternative.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

John Polson
Cast list:
Robert De Niro (David Callaway)
Dakota Fanning (Emily Callaway)
Famke Janssen (Katherine)
Elisabeth Shue (Elizabeth)
Amy Irving (Alison Callaway)
Dylan Baker (Sheriff Hafferty)