Hide and Seek Review
Following the suicide of his wife, psychiatrist David Callaway (Robert De Niro) takes his young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) to live in a remote house far away from the scene of her death. Emily was quite clearly traumatized by the sight of her death mother lying in a bath full of blood, and has retreated inside herself. Emily begins mentioning a boy called Charlie, who David assumes is an imaginary friend. Initially he allows her to indulge in this fantasy, thinking that it will help her to deal with some of her emotional issues, but when strange things begin to happen - things like the cat being found dead and messages written in blood appearing on the walls - David begins to wonder just how imaginary Charlie really is...
The opening titles of Hide and Seek, showing the New York skyline and with a soft voice singing a wordless lullaby, recall Rosemary's Baby, a film that serves as at least partial inspiration for this horror/thriller hybrid from John Polson, the director of the (justifiably) maligned Swimfan. On a much stronger level, though, M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense is the film that Hide and Seek most wants to be, and Polson apes both its tone and pace. Perhaps surprisingly, he is reasonably successful, and while this film doesn't have an original bone in its body, it is an engaging and reasonably satisfying piece of work that is worth watching at least once.
Having appeared in the tonally similar but inferior Godsend last year, Robert De Niro knows this material like the back of his hand and fits into the atmosphere with relative ease. His presence is arguably the most reassuring element of the film, and it is interesting that this very fact is used to subvert our expectations. The role is hardly a stretch for him, however, and to be honest the part could probably have been played by any number of less talented actors. The most impressive performance, however, comes from Dakota Fanning who, at the age of ten, does incredibly well to hold her own next to De Niro. With her ghostly-white face and flat, sardonic line delivery, she treads a fine line between seriousness and farce, and indeed does pretty well to deliver some of her lines with a straight face (actually, the script has a fair amount of black comedy in it that could have been completely blown if it wasn't delivered so well). Sadly, Famke Janssen and Elizabeth Shue are both somewhat underused, although this is a failing on the part of writer Ari Schlossberg rather than the actors themselves.
Hide and Seek brings nothing new to the horror genre, but it is slickly-made, with a well-constructed plot, and certainly enjoyable. The big plot twist explaining the identity of Charlie becomes pretty obvious a good 20 minutes before it is finally revealed, but at least it makes reasonable sense and is given a satisfying conclusion. While not the sort of film that encourages a 1,000-word review, it gets my recommendation.
Presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, Fox has given Hide and Seek a very nice transfer that falls just short of perfection. The image is nicely detailed and faithfully replicates the murky colours and low lighting of the cinematography. There are no compression problems and the film grain is nicely retained. Only some mild but noticeable edge enhancement prevents this transfer from attaining the coveted 10/10 rating.
Dolby Digital and DTS options are provided for the film's 5.1 soundtrack, both of which sound very good, with excellent clarity and no noticeable distortion. Both mixes are predominantly front-focused, but the surrounds are occasionally put to use for the score and sound effects.
English subtitles are provided for the film itself and for the commentary, but unfortunately not for any of the other extras.
Director John Polson, writer Ari Schlossberg and editor Jeffrey Ford provide an informative Audio Commentary that covers a wide range of subjects, from both scripting and shooting perspectives. Polson dominates the track, but Schlossberg chips in frequently from a screenwriter's perspective, doing his bit to explain character motivation and discussing some of the challenges involved with writing the film. Ford says less than the other two overall, but does provide a few anecdotes about the editing proces. All in all, an enjoyable track.
One very nice feature on this disc is the ability to watch the film either with the US theatrical ending or any of four different Alternate Endings, which are selected from the first screen of the main menu. These can also be played separately from the extras menu, with optional commentary by Polson, Schlossberg and Ford. Interestingly, according to IMDB, non-US theatrical versions of the film feature what is presented here as the fourth alternate ending. Apparently, both the US theatrical ending and the international ending were released in UK cinemas (both versions were submitted to the BBFC), implying that different cinemas showed different versions. For what it's worth, I think that the "international ending" was the best of the bunch, adding yet another blackly comical touch to the film.
Seven Deleted Scenes are also provided, again with optional commentary. Most of these involve little character development moments or extensions of scenes that are in the final cut. Unfortunately, the image quality is very poor.
The weakest bonus feature is probably The Making of Hide and Seek, a 10-minute EPK piece of fluff, featuring comments from Polson, Schlossberg and all of the principal actors, except for Robert De Niro, who is conspicuously absent. While little of note is conveyed here, the biggest problem with this feature is Dakota Fanning, who gets more screen time than any of the other cast members, and comes across as extremely pretentious and attention-seeking.
Finall a series of three Previs Sequences sequences are included, combining finished footage with storyboard panels. Polson provides commentary for these, pointing out differences between these versions of the scenes and the final cut.
Although most reviews of Hide and Seek have been fairly negative, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it for a rental at the very least. With a very good audio-visual presentation and an interesting commentary, Fox have served us well with this release.
Hide and Seek is released on 25th July 2005.