Hide And Seek Review
Dakota Fanning, the superb young actress from Man On Fire shows her sinister side in Hollywood's latest scary child movie, Hide And Seek. She's playing Emily Callaway, a little girl who's recovering from the trauma of discovering her mother's dead body lying in a blood-soaked bathtub. Emily's father, New York psychiatrist David Callaway (Robert De Niro, making his second scary child movie in eight months!) has also been shocked by his wife's suicide. He decides that what he and his daughter need is a change of scenery. Against the advice of Emily's doctor (Famke Janssen), he buys a house in a small country town, where he hopes they'll find some peace and quiet.
Shortly after they've moved in, Emily tells her dad she's found a new friend called Charlie. David quickly works out that Charlie is imaginary and he allows the girl to indulge her fantasy, even after she tells him that Charlie hates him and blames him for her mother's death. David assumes that "Charlie" is expressing the dark feelings Emily has been keeping pent-up. But Charlie's influence on the girl grows stronger and more disturbing. She draws frightening pictures. She mutilates dolls. She decorates the bathroom with blood-red paint and daubs "You let her die" on the wall. When David confronts her, she insists she isn't to blame - "It was Charlie".
Fanning plays Emily as if she were the devil-child from The Omen, in pale make-up and with two alternating expressions: a blank gaze and a malicious sneer. Her performance is so over the top that at times it's hard to keep a straight face. When Emily came down to dinner dressed like Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club and told a guest what happened to her mother, adding "Let's hope you don't wind up like her", I couldn't help laughing. The performance also doesn't make sense considering what we eventually learn has been happening. It's not fair to blame the actress, who's just turned eleven. She's only playing the character as written and directed and it doesn't help that the other actors around her, particularly De Niro, play their parts in a much lower key.
Director John Polson previously made the Fatal Attraction rip-off, Swimfan. This time, his most obvious inspiration is The Sixth Sense. Like the directors of many recent horror films, he tries to create the same spooky atmosphere M Night Shyamalan brings to his films by keeping the pace slow, having the actors talk in hushed tones and generally treating the material as if it's very, very serious. This is all well and good as long as the material is worth taking seriously. When you make a film as silly as Hide And Seek with such self-conscious solemnity, all you do is draw attention to its silliness. The only way I can imagine this movie working is directed by Brian De Palma in his most operatic style and with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.
The best thing I can say about the final twist is that I didn't expect it, although it's hardly the first time this twist has been used. The publicity leads you to believe a supernatural entity is involved ("Come out, come out, whatever you are") while the film itself never even raises the possibility - instead it's filled with human red herrings. The twist created two problems for me. Firstly, the last fifteen minutes felt like a re-run of the finale of a very well known horror film. Secondly, when you look back over the story afterwards, it's basically about the abuse of a traumatised little girl. I'm not usually oversensitive at films but I couldn't help feeling that this is tasteless subject matter for a movie that's about nothing more than cheap thrills.