Hide and Seek is yet another movie in which rich white people who don’t seem to have or need jobs move to a mansion in the country to be terrorized by a mysterious, faceless, evil. We’ve seen this scenario a thousand times before in movies like What Lies Beneath, Secret Window, and What About Bob? (because no one plays pure evil quite like Bill Murray). Once in awhile it might be nice to see secretive evil start its killing spree somewhere urban, maybe in a poor or slightly middle-class community. It’s as if by rote of their wealth these people’s lives are so perfect, that nothing can shatter them but the most bizarre or supernatural of circumstances. Sometimes it even takes Satan himself. The rest of us are so busy with daily concerns like making enough money to feed our kids, or getting home without being shot by a drug dealer, that we don’t have time to be stalked by maniac killers and homicidal ghosts. Knowing this, they kindly leave us alone.
In Hide and Seek those forces aren’t leaving the slightly frumpy David Callaway (Robert De Niro) alone. His life takes a turn for the worse one night when his wife cheerfully tucks their daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) in, kisses her on the forehead, and takes a blood soaked bath. While David sleeps, she kills herself in the tub, surrounded by lots of aromatic candles. Emily and David find her there, which for a little kid is quite a mindfuck. Concerned for Emily’s future sanity, David buys a lavish house in rural, upstate New York where he plans to play full time father (when you’re poor that’s called unemployed). He drags Emily there against the advice of family friend and personal therapist Katherine (Famke Janssen), which to me seems like a bad idea since Famke, having played the psychic Jean Grey, is generally pretty trustworthy when it comes to matters of mental health. Who’d have thought being in X-Men would leave her permanently typecast as a psychiatrist?
Of course once they’re out in the peaceful, terrifying New York woods, things only go further awry. Emily starts dressing like Wednesday Adams and talking about an imaginary friend named “Charlie”. Charlie is a naughty fellow who likes to drown and bleed cats in their home’s bathtub. Naturally, this tends to creep people the hell out. Who or what is Charlie becomes the question of the day, with the film practically beating its audience over the head with a plethora of obvious red herrings. One thing you know for certain in this movie is that whenever it tries to make someone look guilty, they didn’t do it. Of course it also resorts to that stock, screechy violin sound whenever something scary might be about to happen. Isn’t it time we came up with a new sound to denote terror? That’s not to say it isn’t scary, the film has a few legitimate thriller moments. I jumped out of my seat a time or two, but then I’m easily manipulated by mediocre suspense/thrillers.
In the end, none of this matters. Hide and Seek is a film that exists solely to serve its last minute, big twist. Fox is so worried about it being revealed, that they’re shipping the ending separately from the rest of the movie, as a means to keep it secret. They’re going overboard, likely as a marketing tool, but this twist still is the sort of thing you don’t want to know going in. As twists go, this one isn’t the most subtle. It’s a shocker, yes, but only because it isn’t supported in any way by the rest of the movie. The best twists are the kind that have been hanging around right under your nose, the kind that once you discover them, suddenly make everything else in the movie take on a beautiful sort of poetic sense. This is not that kind of twist. Hide and Seek isn’t that deft. It’s just a hard left turn, a surprise, but nothing else. Still, without it, Hide and Seek is a failure, with it, it’s sort of scary and basically tolerable.
Throughout, De Niro is at his least convincing. I like the way he at seems a little scared of his daughter once things start getting really weird, but David never evidences enough personality to latch on to the character. Dakota Fanning is however perfectly cast as a creepy little girl who may or may not be in league with the devil. She’s naturally creepy, and should be relegated to playing nothing but creepy little girl roles. She’s the new Christina Ricci. Dakota, you’ve found your niche. Get out of my War of the Worlds movie and stick with it.
Hide and Seek is a very middle of the road thriller put together using spare plot parts from others of its most worn out genre fellows. It isn’t a particularly new idea, nor is it a bad one. Hide and Seek simply is. I’m willing to give it a pass simply for giving the underrated Elisabeth Shue something to do, even if it’s something inconsequential. There are a lot of really terrible horror/thrillers out there, and though Hide and Seek resembles every one of them, it is marginally their superior. The handful of pleasant, throwaway scares it offers are enough to satisfy people who enjoy seeing rich white folks get the shit scared out of them.