Rated: R Reviewed by: Jim Release date: January 28, 2005 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
"Come out, come out wherever you are!"
That’s the famous line from the game of Hide & Seek, now transformed into a terrifying suspense-thriller starring legendary Robert DeNiro (Meet The Fockers) and very gifted child actress Dakota Fanning (Man On Fire). Yet, how the film handles the psychological ramifications of a family under emotional duress by director John Polson and neophyte screenwriter Ari Schlossberg as scary cinematic child’s play.
Polson, remembered for the preposterous teen psychodrama Swimfan, starts his studio-protected final reel chiller with the close relationship between a mother Alison (Amy Irving, once in the taut Carrie from Brian DePalma) and daughter Emily, a dark tressed Fanning. Her fun parents tuck her in for bed after a game of hide and seek, but her miserable, haggard expression soon leads to a traumatic experience for Emily and husband David Calloway (DeNiro) when she is found dead in the bath tub.
The words "hide" and "seek" have much importance for Emily and David as the concerned father decides to relocate her from the horrible memories of Manhattan to upstate bucolic Woodland, New York. David’s colleague from a psychiatric hospital in the city, Katherine (Famke Janssen of X2 and Don’t Say A Word), doesn’t think this decision of starting over is the best thing for a rather catatonic Emily who likes to draw and takes a motherly interest in her.
But, things worsen for David and Emily once they move in to their new spacious, remote home, after greeted by the local sheriff, played with increasing skepticism by Dylan Baker of Spiderman 2. Polson gamely works a creepiness into what is intended to be a difficult relationship between a father and daughter trying to cope with their loss. And Emily becomes withdrawn and unfriendly towards people welcoming her and her father. They include neighbors like Laura (Melissa Leo) and Steve (Robert John Burke), a couple who’ve just lost a daughter warming quite nicely to Emily; and a recent divorcee, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Shue of Hollow Man), who begins to take a liking to David and wears more low-cut outfits.
Emily creates a creepy, maniacal “imaginary” friend named Charlie that at first seems a natural bond for someone young and grief-stricken. But some disturbing crayon writing in the bathroom and a couple of horrible accidents begin to show how decisively the movie wants to have the cinematic effect of a Fatal Attraction. David eventually wants Emily to tell him all about Charlie, but she says that will get him very upset. He’ll lock her in her room for her own good and as the fuse box consistently goes, Charlie carries out his mayhem.The frightening moments obviously are patterned after what keeps Emily and David in a circle of fear as the film gradually uses a flashback sequence that finally explains its guarded, big surprise. For the first two acts, Fanning and DeNiro mostly work a mannered subtleness into their characters as the mood and Emily’s drawings become more ominous. A fearful Jansen and Baker will figure in the eerie, yet silly final sequences that lead from a basement to a watery cave in the woods as the relationship between Emily and her father who recurringly wakes up in a sweat at 2:06 am never truly resonates as it should.
There’s a cat instead of a rabbit and a shower curtain gets good use, but all the edgy orchestral sounds, red herrings, and shots from a closet don’t make the action happening around a secretively precocious girl add up. Polson tears into his imaginary friend premise from a screenplay that provides little intelligence for its characters, especially David who’s a psychologist and keeps a journal of Emily. It’s no shock that, often, especially when Shue enters the unlocked house and goes upstairs, Hide & Seek earns more laughs than shrieks.
|Hide & Seek||C-||B||D+||B-||C+||C+|