Hide And Seek Review
Picture this – you’re at some local dive, pint in hand (what you’re doing there is none of my business but bare with me) and suddenly a strange-looking magician dressed in a Houdini cape with his black and white wand and bowler hat stands up on stage. The fact he clearly bribed his way up there is beside the point but on he goes with a magic trick, taking off his hat and trying to avert your eyes from the obviously rigged table beneath him. He pulls a rabbit out, places it on the table, covers it with the hat and ‘abracadabra’ – he lifts the hat to show the audience what he hopes is a disappearing bunny but oh dear, it’s still there and it dashes off stage seeking its freedom. The magician looks red-faced as the few audience members peak above their drinks and begin a muffled laughter. In many ways Hide And Seek is just like the magician – a film that tries to pull the rug from under the audience but when it comes to the pay-off, it doesn’t quite work out.
Robert De Niro is David Callaway, a father struggling to come to terms with his wife’s sudden suicide and having to care for his troubled young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Deciding the best way to deal with their collective grief is make a fresh start, he and Emily head to a big house in the country. However, when strange things begin to occur such as bloody writing on the bathroom wall, and the cat being drowned in the bathtub, David turns his attention to Emily who seems to have a hand in the sinister goings-on but she tells him it’s her imaginary friend who goes by the name ‘Charlie’. Humouring her at first, believing that it is her way of dealing with the loss of her mother, things take a turn for the worse, and Charlie may be more dangerous than he first imagined.
Like the disappearing rabbit, Hide And Seek has a distinct whiff of other films like we’ve been here before. The films are hardly old either, with What Lies Beneath and Identity sharing some obvious similarities, and it’s certainly the case that both M. Night Shyamalan’s style and narrative logic is on show here. Yet, Hide And Seek has an alluring texture with its depiction of a troubled father-daughter relationship, the core of the story providing an interesting dynamic. You’ve got to look at the performances of the two leads though as both are on fine form – Robert De Niro in his most demanding role since Casino and Sleepers, while Dakota Fanning proves she’s one of the best young actresses to hit Hollywood, if not the best. Her defiant yet cold inwardness contrasted with his controlled anguish make for captivating viewing and they cover-up some of the film’s flaws but no matter what they do, they can’t prevent the film from feeling like a series of red-herrings, so that what you’re seeing is a continuous thread of dead-ends and blind alleys. At times both actors seem restrained by a script that simply doesn’t work. Had a more experienced director being at the helm, then such a device could have worked (you only have to look at most of Hitchcock’s work, but then again Bryan Singer accomplished it with his second film The Usual Suspects) because ultimately it feels like we are cheated at the expense of a pretentious, over-zealous director trying to make too much of sub-par material. For all its good points, Hide And Seek is just another dressed-up supernatural slasher film with haunted-house styling, and not a very good one at that.
Further reading of the film can be found in Michael Mackenzie's region 2 DVD Review and Kevin O'Reilly's Cinema Review
The DVD opens with the option of viewing the film with one of four alternate endings which the viewer can decide whether to watch within the feature film or separately with optional commentary. There is also the feature to watch the theatrical cut. Ultimately though, this DVD gimmick is rather a waste of time because none of the alternate endings offer anything to get excited about – the feature hardly comes with the ‘whodunit’ joy of Clue’s DVD option of watching different endings depicting a different killer each time. The endings here have nothing to do with ‘different killers’ but ironically look at the most interesting aspect of the film that never gets investigated – that being character psychology. In the end, it’s almost annoying – especially when the director talks about test audiences in the commentary – it’s fair enough that studios require their product to attract an audience and make money, but so many director’s just don’t seem to have the balls to stick with something and role with, even it does mean the end of their career. If the late Stanley Kubrick let himself be bullied by today’s rich-head honcho’s, he’d be making SpongeBob SquarePants movies and exec-producing a remake of The Shining with Freddie Prince Jr. playing Jack.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphic enhanced. I personally was very impressed by the image which seemed very solid and detailed throughout. The dark photography is reproduced beautifully on the DVD, with blacks looking superb and the muted, autumnal colours look excellent. There’s some very slight grain noticeable from the print which take a point or two off the final grade, but this is a superb transfer.
Two main soundtracks are available – a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a DTS. I watched the film with the DTS track switched on and for all intents and purposes, it was fantastic. There’s some superb separation across the front channels and dialogue really utilises the front soundstage. Later on in the film, the deep sounds of sub-woofer really heat-up the soundtrack and it becomes an aurally-great experience. The film has its best scares when the sound is turned-up high because director John Polson’s only real idea of thrilling his audience is by shocking them with suddenly louder sound – you will jump!
The additional features on the DVD include a commentary by director John Polson, Editor Jeffrey Ford, and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg. It’s understandable that the speakers love their movie since they obviously invested a lot in it, but it’s laughable how they imply the film stands up to some notable classics. A fairly dull commentary that offers a few scattered anecdotes but mainly focuses on the structure of technique invested in the film. Also featured in the DVD are the alternate endings with optional commentary, and some other deleted scenes, plus the addition of footage from the film being placed into storyboard sequences, as the director tells of what could have been. The DVD is rounded off with a ten-minute making-of which acts like an extended trailer than anything really informative.
Hide And Seek is a film that could have been a lot better – there’s an element of enjoyment to be had, but every good bit just reminds the viewer of other better films. I wonder whether M. Night Shyamalan is proud or pissed off, because is Hide And Seek a homage or a rip-off of the The Sixth Sense - a film that does this psycho-thriller, slow-burning horror stuff so much better.