Film — Hide and Seek (R)

Hide and Seek (R)

by Amy Diaz

Robert De Niro makes us seriously question his career choices, again, with the lackluster suspense horror thing Hide and Seek.

I say “suspense horror thing” because to say “psychological thriller” would seem sarcastic and “gripping suspense film” would be a flat-out lie. Hide and Seek, much like the recent evil-child movie Godsend and those American Express commercials, seems to point to a layer of dingy haze, a smog of mediocrity that has seemed to settle on De Niro. It’s like he’s picking scripts via the blind folded game of darts method and turning in exactly the same disinterested performance for every role.

I don’t know, maybe if you spend the first half of your career convincing everyone that you’re the greatest American actor since Marlon Brando you can spend the second half of your career phoning it in.

The lethargic De Niro isn’t completely wasted in this movie. As psychologist/widower Dr. David Calloway, De Niro plays his whateverness against the sarcastic, bitchy heroine-chic of his 8-year-old daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Sure, she may spend the first quarter of the movie carrying around a doll, but after a traumatic early scene, Emily quickly develops deep, dark circles around the wide eyes in her otherwise colorless face. Add the dark hair and a tendency to stare off in creepy silence and Emily quickly gains the ability to give the wiggins to any adult she runs across.

And that’s before the razor-edged bitchery at her father begins. At first it seems to come out of her despair at having lost her mother and her loneliness at her and her father’s relocation to a remote house in upstate New York. But then Emily begins to talk about an ominous-sounding friendship with someone, possibly imaginary but possibly not, named Charlie. At first, Charlie just provides her with a hide-and-seek partner but soon he’s pulling an assortment of sociopathic pranks — pranks of the kind that lead to dead house pets. 

The cat isn’t the only one who needs to beware the Charlie — Dr. David develops a new friend in Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue) and neither Emily nor Charlie seems all that excited about seeing Calloway jump back into the dating game.

The scenes of Emily’s increasing creepiness are, probably unintentionally, quite funny. Fanning, not a bad little actor, plays the part of this disturbed girl as if she was trying out for her elementary-school production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In one scene, she dresses up in her dead mother’s clothes to eat dinner with her dad and Elizabeth. Sure, her hair might be in a ponytail but you can almost see the glass of gin in one hand and the cigarette dangling out of her mouth as she delivers lines laced with weary bitterness and vague threats. I think we’re supposed to feel that Emily is slipping deeper into grief-borne crazy but the effect is something like Blues Clues: The E! True Hollywood Story.

Naturally, the movie has a twist near the end — a twist being the refuge of every suspense movie that doesn’t adequately build any suspense. “Mwah ha! Gotcha!” the movie says to us, except, no you didn’t “get us,” Hide and Seek. Pretty quickly we catch on about the true nature of this movie’s boogeyman and even a bit of misdirection with a few townsfolk doesn’t really throw us off the scent.

Hide and Seek isn’t a deeply flawed movie (luckily for it, Alone in the Dark came out at the same time just to remind us all what true crap looks like); it just doesn’t try all that hard.

- Amy Diaz

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