MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror-Thriller/ Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, Robert John Burke/ Runtime: 101 minutes
It is my distinct opinion that a truly great thriller should be one that is one you can view time and time again even after the secrets contained therein have been given up. Indeed I think that is why The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense are still class acts and quite legendary no matter how many times you watch them or for that matter how much you know about Keyser Soze or can comprehend just what it is that a young boy is able to see. Yet for all the iconic memories that pair of films manages to create, what can you say about another thriller that wants to be just like them, but instead, even on the initial viewing, lets people in on the big reveal significantly in advance, makes very clear just what qualifies as a red herring, and then attempts to hide it by smothering the whole film with a thick helping of a tense, uneasy, and unnerving atmosphere? In case you’re wondering I am of course referring to today’s movie Hide and Seek and the first time I sat down to watch it, I honestly could not begin to comprehend just what in the world got this top-notch cast to want to be a part of it.
Then I remembered that one of the first people to come on board this film was none other than Robert De Niro, and of course everyone, their mother, their grandmother, and their great-grandmother wants the opportunity to say that they were able to work alongside this icon of the silver screen. Thus with this magnet masquerading as an actor in place, the film quickly found itself assembling a cast consisting of Melissa Leo, Amy Irving, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Dylan Baker and, at the time, brilliant child actress Dakota Fanning, who was only nine years old when filming got underway. Indeed with talent like this on display, a master class film helmer like frequent De Niro collaborator Marty Scorsese might have been able to conjure up a spooky good time like he did when he made Shutter Island. Unfortunately, the studio made the “brilliant” decision to instead give the film to an actor turned director by the name of John Polson, and while he shows a hint of both potential and promise, the sad reality is that this man is clearly no Scorsese though not for lack of effort. As it stands though Hide and Seek is one game that although quite a few will want to play, the majority might not be entirely thrilled by the outcome.
The plot is as follows: Hide and Seek starts its nightmare on that lovely holiday that is New Year’s Day as we see a psychologist by the name of David Callaway and his beautiful wife Allison as they spend the day with their daughter Emily in that iconic New York City locale that is Central Park. That night however things take a turn for the tragic when, at 2:06 in the morning, David wakes up after a series of disturbing dreams to find that his wife is not in bed and, upon heading to the bathroom, finds his wife’s dead body in the bathtub in what appears to be a suicide while, unbeknownst to him, Emily sees everything and goes into a state of shock as a result. Cut to a fair amount of time later and Emily is still horrifically scarred from the incident despite passionate efforts from a former student of David’s by the name of Katherine. To that end, David makes the decision that what both he and his little girl really need is to move, and so he decides to a large house a in a community upstate that, except for during the summer, is almost deserted otherwise. However right off the bat creepy things start to occur, but due to the fact that Emily has been acting weird for a while now and that they are in a new and unfamiliar locale, it seems to make sense. Soon enough however, even her father finds that he has to admit that something is up. Indeed Emily’s moods become wildly unstable, her behavior is getting worse, her comfort dolls keep getting found destroyed and thrown in the trash, her artwork becomes more horrific, and eerie writing starts to show up on the wall in the bathroom. Worst of all however, is a new imaginary pal that Emily makes named Charlie who it quickly becomes apparent might just be more than imaginary. How real he turns out to be however is something that you, along with David and Emily, will soon, and quite horrifically, discover for yourself…..
Now I’m just going to come right out and say it dear reader: Hide and Seek is a film that honestly could really truly have been something special. I mean the idea of a child making an imaginary friend in the aftermath of the death of one parent only to have said imaginary friend come to life and start terrorizing them and the other parent for mysterious sins which may or may not be real is one that honestly could be quite terrifying. However, in order for such a film to work, not only do the scares have to actually be, I don’t know, scary, but we have to legitimately feel for the characters and their plight. I mean I hate to say it, but in this I honestly didn’t know nearly as much about the characters as I thought I should and I honestly didn’t care about any of them even remotely as much as I’m sure the actors portraying them would’ve most likely wanted me to. Yes there is some character development, but not only is that rushed through in order to get us to scare moments that honestly feel like a dog that has just been adopted by Bob Barker in how neutered their execution seems to be, but that are also given to us aka the movie watcher by some of the most ridiculous payoffs I have seen in a thriller like this one. Yes you will most likely figure out just where this one is going, but even if you aren’t able to, I honestly think you will find yourself going “seriously?!!” when all is revealed at the end of this one. I mean I’m still trying to figure out just why they chose to go down that particular road when there were quite a few paths the film could’ve explored, but all I can figure is that the filmmakers only had a limited time window to film this in and so they went with the option that was the laziest yet easiest to incorporate into a film like this.
Now in regards to the cast for this film I must admit I am also quite baffled in that category as well dear reader. The reason for this is because, as stated at the beginning of this review, what on Earth, besides working with DeNiro, would attract these quite talented thespians to a film that even the script must’ve shown the quality of right off the bat? Minor rant aside, I guess it is worth pointing out that the cast in this film is easily by far the best thing that this film has going for it even if their performances are as one note as everything else. Indeed in the lead role we have legendary acting icon Robert DeNiro and unfortunately this is not the DeNiro of such films as GoodFellas, Casino, or even Angel Heart. However it is also not the DeNiro present in Dirty Grandpa either (thank God). Rather this is a DeNiro that is trying, but only just enough to make the film work as much as it ultimately does. I mean it’s not that he is bad in this, but trust me when I say that the script does him and his performance no favors. The same can be said for Dakota Fanning who gives easily the best performance in this as David’s daughter Emily. Indeed as the little girl at the heart of the terror, Fanning does act bratty at times, but given that she was always closer to her mom than her dad this does make sense. In addition, Fanning does also play mischievous and scared quite well which are definitely necessary for this role and as a result really tries her best to make the film work; it’s just a shame that the rest of the film can’t measure up to what she brings to it. The rest of the cast does do good work in their respective parts, but the problem is by negating them necessary characterization it really is difficult to care about any of them as individuals especially when they are either part of the scares in this film which truth be told are way goofier than genuinely frightening in any way, showcased to us just enough for us to think they’re going to be important to the overall “mystery” of the film, or have their clear acting talent wasted by only popping up in flashbacks that may or may not prove to important.
All in all I have played games of Hide and Seek as a kid that were infinitely both creepier and more enjoyable than this film could ever aspire to be. Indeed if that alone doesn’t clue you in to just how much of a misfire this film was and is then observe as the script does everything as predictably as it possibly can, and marvel at just how one-note the clearly in need of some quick and easy money this truly talented group of actors, led by one of the most iconic in his generation or any generation no less, seems to stumble and bumble their way through it as if their brains are all either on cruise control or have been taken over by Plankton from SpongeBob in yet another doomed attempt to find the Krabby Patty recipe. If all else fails to dissuade you however then by all means find a copy of it and watch it. I guarantee you may find one or two positives to note about the film, but otherwise don’t be surprised if you find yourself possessed with a sudden urge to either watch a much better movie immediately afterward or find yourself writing a letter to your Congressman asking them to outlaw the game of Hide and Seek from now until the end of time and then some. On a scale of 1-5 I give Hide and Seek a solid 2.5 out of 5.