Hide & Seek

6 out of 10


More Rich White Folk In a Scary Country House

After the success of "Sixth Sense", most successful horror these days begin with the same ideas: a sudden death of a loved one, the survivors trying to "start afresh somewhere else" and weird happenings beginning thereafter, usually associated with some corruption of the innocence of childhood.. True to cue, "Hide and Seek" opens so close to the formula that it even includes the standard arial shot of the car driving to the countryside through the forests, seen in films as wide ranging as "The Ring", "The Mothman Prophecies", "Riding In Cars With Boys" and "Blair Witch 2". David Calloway takes his daughter Emily to a new life after his wife mumbles something about incurable diseases and is found after croaked in the bath tub. Whilst unusual to a Brit, the idea of an imaginary friend is a common one to North American children, and, at first, "Charlie" seems an acceptable quirk of his daughter who has suffered the loss of her mother. Increasingly disturbing physical manifestations of this unseen imaginary friend, however, begin to occur, including the violent death of the cat. David begins to fear for their lives as he realises that Charlie might be either real or supernatural ...or is it just a bunch of covert Viet Cong who no-one's yet told the war's been over for 30 years?

For a man more used to action movies, Robert De Niro seems an odd choice for a $30million budget horror flick. At the outset, his casting seems excessive as David the psychiatrist, but his need is clear by the end of the film, and he and Dakota Fanning as Emily are able to create a magic all of their own on the screen and this is much of the film's strength. (Then again De Niro's dramatic acting could only have improved since his attrocious performance in "Godsend") With Famke Janssen as his colleague, trying to help Emily with Charlie, her psychotic friend, there can be little criticism of the calibre of acting.

Appreciating the story's dependence on a single earth-shattering twist, Australian director John Polson and writer Ari Schlossberg struggled hard to spray the plot with red herrings, even at the expense of having a slow first half, and planted fragments of explanation in order to allow it to run swiftly at the end. Various creepy characters appear including a real estate agent who drops keys through his letterbox in the small hours of the morning, a cop with a severe phobia and neighbours who recently lost a child who keep fighting. Despite Polson being more known for his work on "Mission Impossible", "Hide and Seek" is interestingly filmed with a great deal of attention to camera angles. Likewise, by filming in a coimfortable home that could be one of ours, rather than an obviously creepy mansion, it relates more to us, the audience. With an almost surgically precise cut, a simple rock in the woods becomes menancing, even in broad daylight, as you know something bad is associated with it without explanation, and the final 10 seconds of the film are a truly chilling shocker.

Despite all it has going for it, "Hide and Seek" suffers from the fact that Ari Schlossberg threw this, only his second ever script, together in just a meagre 6 months and this ultimately lies at the root of the movie's weaknesses. Clearly overly long and had to be savagely cut back leaving some parts a little disjointed, including a fishing trip that deems laughably out of place and Polson was also forced to change poorly thought out locations at the time of shooting. Likewise, De Niro's incessantly having to cry out of "Emily...Emily..." every few seconds does wear thin on the nerves after a while. Above all though, it leaves a certain question of credibity of why films of this genre always have these scary events happening to wealthy middle class white people who don't ever seem to have to work for a living? A problem, I guess, that goes with having to write to a set formula to please the studio bosses and the financial backers rather than the audience.

Had "Hide and Seek" have been released 10 years ago, its shocking ending would have made it the talk of every coffee house in America. Now, however, with so many having explored the "Mousetrap's" cop-did-it style ending, it stands a passable, and undeserving of the panning so many other critics gave it, but still a unremarkable piece of cinema that is worth seeing once.


Neither one to seek out nor one to hide from

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett