Hide and Seek (January 25/05)
Hide and Seek marks Robert DeNiro's second thriller in less than a year - following 2004's disastrous Godsend - and to call this an improvement is a wild understatement. Though it's not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, Hide and Seek does manage to hold the viewers interest throughout - despite a final act that becomes a little too preposterous and hackneyed for its own good. Still, films of this sort are becoming increasingly rare - ie a thriller geared towards adults instead of teenagers - so for that reason alone, Hide and Seek is worth some consideration.
The film stars DeNiro as psychologist and single dad David Callaway, whose wife has recently committed suicide. He decides to move his daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), out of the city and into a country estate - though it's clear that Emily would much rather remain in their splashy New York apartment. Emily seems to be withdrawing further and further inward, something that changes with the arrival of a new imaginary friend named Charlie. While David is initially skeptical of Emily's refusal to make any real friends, he accepts the presence of Charlie as part of the grieving process. It's not long before some mysterious things beginning happening around the house, all of which Emily attributes to Charlie.
Aside from the sinister opening credits and a false scare involving a cat (of course), Hide and Seek's opening hour doesn't really hint at the horror that closes out the film. The slow build is very effective, and it's fairly obvious that screenwriter Ari Schlossberg has been heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick's take on Stephen King's The Shining. The isolated setting and Emily's fixation on an imaginary friend are the two most obvious examples of this, though there are a few more that crop up as the film progresses. The problem is, then, that neither director John Polson nor cinematographer Dariusz Wolski are able to imbue the film with the sort of pervading dread that was hard-wired into The Shining by Kubrick. Even when some ominous elements begin to work their way into the story - ie a displaced knife, a shady neighbor, etc - the film never quite becomes as creepy as one might hope (this is despite the presence of several genuinely suspenseful moments).
Both DeNiro and Fanning are effective in their respective roles, with DeNiro delivering the same sort of bland performance he's been proffering for years now (his method acting days are clearly behind him). Fanning fares substantially better, effortlessly slipping into the shoes of a little girl lost - though there's something slightly disconcerting about the sight of Dakota Fanning decked out in full goth regalia. The supporting cast is peppered with an eclectic selection of performers, including Elisabeth Shue, Melissa Leo, and Dylan Baker (who, unfortunately, can't help but evoke his child-molesting character from Happiness in all his scenes with Fanning).
Aside from the over-the-top denouement, Hide and Seek suffers from a running time that's just a little too long; once the film's divulged all its secrets, everything that comes after feels anti-climactic. Still, one expects such silliness out of a film like this, so it's difficult to be surprised by the ludicrous direction the script takes in the final reel.