Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Team up a veteran actor with a much talked-about child star in a ghoulish scary movie, and what have you got? Hide and Seek, Hollywood’s latest entry in the “creepy little kid” genre currently dominating the horror scene. But does this one hide in plain sight, or is it a gem worth seeking out?
After the sudden death of his wife, psychologist David Callaway (Robert De Niro, Ronin) moves into a secluded farmhouse in upstate New York to heal and bond with his young daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning, Man on Fire). Stricken with grief, Emily is quiet and withdrawn; David grows frustrated trying to communicate with her. We then learn she has someone else to interact with—her imaginary friend, Charlie. David grows more and more concerned when he sees Emily is afraid of Charlie, and she hints that Charlie is threatening violence against them both. As her behavior becomes more and more erratic, it seems that Charlie might not be so imaginary.
The suspense here is of the slow-burn variety, rather than the non-stop roller coaster ride of thrillers that just go for the adrenaline rush. We spend the first part of the film with David and Emily as they move in, get to know their neighbors, go fishing, and so on. The sinister elements of the plot are introduced gradually, so that by the time all hell breaks loose, we’re invested enough in the characters to worry about what happens to them. The script is fairly basic, but it does a good job of keeping viewers guessing about Charlie’s nature. Is Emily insane? Are the bizarre neighbors keeping a deadly secret? Is there something supernatural lurking in the shadows? There are mysteries everywhere—this, too, keeps viewers interested during the film’s slower moments.
De Niro plays it straight for most of the film, as the mourning father trying to keep his wits together as his daughter retreats into herself. Although there are a few big dramatic outbursts, De Niro’s frustration is evident. As a psychologist, he takes an analytical approach to the problem, not realizing that the trouble with Charlie is one he’s not going to find in his books. Famke Janssen (X-Men) and Elizabeth Shue (The Trigger Effect) have smaller roles, but both bring what they can to their parts. Janssen plays a fellow psychologist, and is the voice of reason to whom David turns. Shue plays a friend (or perhaps more) whom David meets in town. It isn’t long before she, too, becomes a target for Charlie’s wrath.
And then there’s Dakota Fanning. Currently, she’s the “it kid” in Hollywood. You know the one. The child actor who seems to show up in every movie; the one that adult actors and directors compliment, saying working with him/her is like working with a 30-year-old. Go back a few years and it was Haley Joel Osment. Go back further, and it was Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire. Keep going, and you’ll remember names such as Fred Savage, Drew Barrymore, and more. There’s been a lot of talk about Fanning’s performance in this film, and how she seems wise beyond her years. Some of this is true, especially in scenes where she is called upon to say or do some frightening things. These include verbally sparring with Elizabeth Shue’s character, delivering insulting messages to her father from Charlie, and running and screaming in terror during the chaotic finale. But other times, though, all that’s required of her is to be a blank. She spends several scenes just sitting motionless, staring off into space. Whether this is brilliant acting—or just sitting there—is up to each viewer to decide for him/herself.
The scares here aren’t as extreme as the best thrillers out there. It’s definitely a plot-driven fright flick, rather than just a pure adrenaline rush. This will likely divide viewers. Some will appreciate the emphasis on acting and character, while others will dismiss it as being paced too slowly to be scary. Also, a few tired horror movie clichés are dragged out of retirement for this one. For example, when we see that Emily owns a cat, is there any doubt it will jump out at someone for a cheap scare later on?
As is the case with most new releases, video and audio are excellent. Picture quality is solid, with bright and vivid colors where necessary, and plenty of deep, solid blacks. Audio comes in both flavors of DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, and both are excellent, making use of all speakers, shining during the more atmospheric and suspenseful moments.
This disc features the theatrical version of the film, and four alternate endings, resulting in five different versions of the movie. Take that, Clue! When you first put the disc in the machine, you’re given an option to watch any of the five versions. For those with less patience, the four alternate endings are also viewable separately from the extras menu. With optional commentary on each ending, it’s clear that although the film has had its theatrical run and is now on DVD, the creators still cannot agree on which ending is most appropriate. Each commentator makes a case why he likes his ending the best.
Other extras include a commentary from director John Polson, screenwriter Ari Schlossberg, and editor Jeffrey Ford. Whenever the editor joins a commentary, you can always brace yourself for discussion of decisions made in the editing room, and that’s the case here. But time is also given to early script ideas that didn’t make the final version, as well as a few anecdotes from the set. A short featurette is included, with more anecdotes from the set and interview snippets from the actors. Not that anyone would do this—but don’t watch the featurette before watching the movie if you want to stay spoiler-free. Rounding out the extras are several deleted scenes with optional commentary. Finally, there are three “pre-vis” scenes that combine film footage with storyboards. These also come with commentary.
It’s a low-level spook fest with some decent acting, and an excellent DVD presentation. The “five endings” thing will make this a DVD novelty for years to come.