The Good: Acting, Mood
The Bad: Characters, Lack of plot, Pacing issues
The Basics: Hide And Seek effectively kept me on edge, like a thriller ought to, but the longer it went on, the more bored I became.
Late last night when my wife and I had finished watching Hide And Seek, she asked me how it was that I was not scared. I could tell that, despite the fact that she had seen the movie before, she was still freaked out. I began to deconstruct the movie and tell her all of the rational reasons I had not fully engaged. I pointed out some of the red flags that clued me in to how the movie would end and the fundamental problem I had with the movie based upon the director’s choice of point of view shots. What I failed to articulate well enough to my wife last night was that I did not absolutely hate Hide And Seek. In fact, Hide And Seek kept me awake and engaged enough to stay up late when I was pretty tired.
But, when it wasn’t keeping my mind agitated, I was very, very bored. In fact, director John Polson prioritized the creepy mood at the expense of making the characters distinctive enough that I would care about what happened to them. As well, the film works so hard to create the unsettling mood that much of the movie nothing actually happens. People visit the house, Dakota Fanning stares eerily at the camera, Hide And Seek is a remarkably static movie for much of the film.
David Callaway started the new year off poorly. Awaking in the middle of the night, he walks to the bathroom to find his wife, Allison, there dead, having killed herself in the bathtub. David is shocked, but his daughter Emily is utterly despondent. After an extended stay in a psychiatric facility where Emily bonds with her doctor, Katherine, David decides that the best course of action for Emily and him is to get them out of New York City. They move an hour away from the City to a very quiet, rural community where David continues his psychological observations and Emily goes exploring.
Emily soon ditches her prized doll and David takes that as a good sign. But when Emily starts talking about her new friend, Charlie, David goes from curious to disturbed. As David becomes closer with a local, Elizabeth, Emily begins to act up. David awakens to find messages in the bathroom that imply that he is culpable in his wife’s death. When David wakes up to find the family cat drown in the bathtub, he realizes that Emily may be too much for him to handle and he calls Katherine. But Emily’s insistence that Charlie is to blame for the mayhem around the house makes David believe that Emily’s harmless imaginary friend is anything but!
Hide And Seek is appropriately unsettling, but it telegraphs its most horrific moments with a soundtrack that makes it very easy for the squeamish viewer to know when to look away. John Polson does an excellent job at creating a mood that is disturbing . . . when he bothers. When the mood is not utterly creepy, it is entirely boring. While my stomach turned early in the movie and stayed upset, there were long, slow periods when nothing much happened. In that way, Hide And Seek actually reminded me of Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (reviewed here) where there were several extended sequences where the camera just focused on people watching the camera while a song played. Similarly, Polson dwells on Fanning and De Niro excessively and while Fanning is entirely creepy, De Niro just seems like a father trying to do good most of the time.
The fundamental problem with Hide And Seek is that it tries too hard to make a red herring movie. While few films can do what 12 Monkeys (reviewed here!) did so successfully, few do it as poorly as Hide And Seek. Polson overloads the movie with creepy characters from the David’s new neighbors who recently lost a daughter to the real estate agent who shows up at the house after 2 A.M. just to drop off some keys to Sheriff Hafferty who stares at Emily an awkwardly long amount of time. By the time the film’s big revelation comes, it is hard to care who Charlie is because everyone around Emily is so unbearably creepy.
Robert De Niro plays David well and he is calm and rational enough in his performance to make the viewer believe he is credibly a psychotherapist. De Niro is articulate and he plays off Dakota Fanning’s Emily with a patience that makes viewers wish they had such a calm father! This backfires slightly on De Niro in that his reactions to some of the horrific events – usually in the bathroom – seem unfortunately understated. So, while he plays a credible mental health professional, he seems to do so at the expense of his character’s underlying humanity. This may just be poor writing more than an awkward performance, as there are the commonly held erroneous notions that smart people are miserable and psychoanalysts are emotionally detached. De Niro seems to be doing very well with what he was given and when he has the chance to shine, he does.
The movie is frequently ruled by Dakota Fanning, who is utterly creepy as Emily. Fanning needs only to stare with a detached look at the screen with her big eyes to unsettle viewers. She plays Emily well and when Emily acts up and blames Charlie, she is credible.
What doesn’t work as far as Emily speaks to the ultimate revelation of who Charlie is. In the end, I could buy the identity of Charlie, but not that Emily reacted so positively to Charlie. In other words, Charlie comes to make sense, but that Emily manages to go so long without telling anyone who Charlie is – or act confused by it – is a stretch well beyond suspension of disbelief.
On DVD, Hide And Seek features four alternate versions outside the theatrical release, but I was not interested enough to watch any of them. Sorry!
For other psychological dramas, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
What Lies Beneath
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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