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HIDE AND SEEK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker
Director: John Polson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 5, 2005

“Emily, why would you do this?”

“It was Charlie.”

Film *

What I’ve noticed lately is a trend amongst moviegoers. When going to see a suspense thriller with a secretive plot, audiences always want to play detective and see if they can guess the big surprise that’s going to occur in the films end. I’ve always been hip to the idea of letting a movie unfold before you, but in the case of Hide and Seek, both kinds of viewers get cheated big time.

The movie plays like an M. Night Shyamalan film on complete auto-pilot. It sinks to the lowest level of the suspense genre with its establishing of a plot device, and getting the viewer built up for what should be a fantastic finale. It manages to add insult to injury by unleashing an alleged “surprise twist” that is simply as cheap as they come. It’s too unfortunate that so many talented people couldn’t realize that they were attached to a most weak project, least of all Robert De Niro.

The story begins in New York City, where psychologist David Callaway (De Niro) wakes up in the middle of the night to discover his wife, Allison (Amy Irving), dead in the bathtub. She’s taken her own life in a most grisly manner. Both David, and his young daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), are stunned with horror.

The death has a larger effect on Emily, who has barely spoken a word since it occurred. David suggests to his colleague, Katherine (Famke Janssen), that the best thing for the two of them is to move away from the city, to a much more quiet setting upstate. From his perspective, it will help to erase all the painful memories Emily is harboring.

The father and daughter are soon relocated to that exact area, residing in a most beautiful and secluded home in the brushy mountain-laced area. The signs of a new life beginning start to appear, in the form of friendly neighbors, as well as a local single mother (Elisabeth Shue) who starts taking a liking to David, and has a daughter the same age as Emily.

For Emily, though, starting over isn’t as easy. She only gets joy from one thing; a new friend named Charlie. David is baffled by the news his daughter delivers. The only thing is Charlie is a “secret” friend, meaning that he only talks to Emily when she is all alone. David is convinced that Charlie isn’t a real person, and that she has created an imaginary friend as a result of the trauma she experienced.

Then (ALL TOGETHER NOW) strange incidents start to occur. David awakes in the middle of the night to find message scrolled in blood in the bathroom. Horrified by the notion that his own daughter could’ve done something like this, she says it was Charlie who did it.

It all leads to endless scenes of more bizarre happenings, followed by a loud exchange between David and Emily, which is repeated countless times. That’s the first thing that becomes quickly unbearable in the movie. Then, thinking it will slap the audience in the face, the movie sinks into the ground with a final revelation that makes the audience want to slap back at the screen. All I can say that it’s a pure insult to all great twist endings.

Trust me when I say that this ending will never be mentioned in the same league as that of Arlington Road, Fight Club, Identity, Seven, Unbreakable or The Usual Suspects, films that executed their twists with sheer brilliance. Even The Village, whose ending was rejected greatly by the masses, is a much more masterful execution than the pure cop-out that Hide and Seek administers.

To make matters worse, the twist adds a whole new kind of element to the movie that is very depressing to think about. Once this registers in your mind with the last shot in the movie, it’s very hard to forgive Hide and Seek for the sorry excuse for entertainment value.

As for Robert De Niro, whose work in films like Casino and Heat are reminders that he’s one of the greatest actors of all time; it begs one to ponder why such an accomplished actor, with many films to his credit, would waste his time with such lackluster material. For all I know, he needed the money, but this movie never deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with the likes of Cape Fear and Taxi Driver.

Then there’s young Dakota Fanning, who’s fast on her way to becoming a bigger than life star. I mean, before she came along, I had no idea children that young could act so marvelously. With her track record of light fluffy material, it’s clear that she was pressed to appear in this film just to showcase that she can be in this R rated film just because that alone might surprise people. Here’s hoping that she can rid herself of this movie soon, because I was reminded of the same mistake Macaulay Culkin made when he against type in the R rated, and God-awful, The Good Son.

This is unquestionably one of the worst films of the year. To sum it up perfectly, Hide from this movie and Seek something else!

Video ****

No complaints here, as this anamorphic release from Fox (Full Screen available separately) once again demonstrates the studio’s commitment to top quality. The one thing I neglected to mention about the movie was its only positive quality, and that is the look of it. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean, Dark City) does a very good job of helping to capture the mood of the setting with his maneuvering of the camera. Picture quality is crisp, clear and wonderfully detailed, even in the darkly lit shots, which they are many of.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix, offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS, delivers the power-sounding goods. Despite the label of a suspense thriller, the first 2/3 of the movie is actually dialogue driven, with a scene or two of momentary suspense. It isn’t until the last half of the movie where the sound jolt really kicks in, and the sound mix supplied here gets the job done at a high level. Words are spoken in smooth clarity, music playback is well executed, and the surround sound comes very well into play by way of various set pieces.

Features ***

Fox does something a little neat with this release, which is allowing you the option to watch 4 separate versions of the movie, each with a different “alternate ending”, which can also be viewed separately. Also included is a commentary with director John Polson, screenwriter Ari Schlossberg and editor Jeffrey Ford, 14 Deleted/Extended Scenes with optional commentary, a display of Rough Conceptual Sequences, and a 10 minute making-of featurette.

Summary:

Despite the level of talent involved, Hide and Seek is quite simply a weak attempt at a suspense thriller. It becomes more and more unsatisfying as it progresses, and ends on an even more unsatisfying note. It’s a movie that fails easily where so many others have succeeded.

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