Hide and Seek

Is it too much to ask for a thriller movie that makes sense when the inevitable twist of the killer’s identity is revealed? 2005 seems to be the year where every “thriller” movie botches the ending in order to try and scare the audience, but really only succeeds in ruining everything the movie has accomplished to that point. Earlier this year Hide and Seek became one of the first thrillers of the year to make that mistake. Its journey onto DVD only allows you to rewatch the movie and see where it goes wrong again and again and again. Hide and Seek has probably the strongest set up for a generic plot that I’ve seen in a while. David Calloway (Robert De Niro) is a psychologist who awakes one night to discover his wife dead in the bathtub, the victim of an apparent suicide. Despite concerns of his former pupil Katherine (Famke Janssen), who is monitoring David’s daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning), David packs up the house and Emily and finds a house in a more rural environment, getting the two of them away from haunting memories. Unfortunately all is not well in David and Emily’s new home. Emily has made a new imaginary friend named “Charlie” who always seems to have “just left” when David arrives, and who is bent on using Emily to torment David for letting Emily’s mother die.

As a thriller film, Hide and Seek is actually done quite well. The movie is filmed with a bit of a nefarious tone to shots, setting them up as if this was a ghost story. Camera shots stay on cabinet doors or knife sets for long enough to get the audience nervously anticipating something to happen. As the film continues to set up the mysterious character of Charlie, it almost feels as if there could be a supernatural element to the character. Director John Polson makes some very smart and creative choices in his camera placements and direction, helping build a really strong mood for the film.

I have to give credit to the performances. I’ve been guilty in the past of saying Robert De Niro needs to stick to gangster type roles, the types of parts that really made his career. Well, De Niro is a talented actor, whether I give him enough credit for that or not. He quickly falls into his part here, losing the tough guy attitude he’s had in previous movies and really making me believe he’s a family man psychologist. Elizabeth Shue and Famke Janssen both play typical parts for their abilities, and truth be told, as a man, their presence alone in this movie should have sold the film for me. Dakota Fanning actually works in this movie. She continues to prove she’s incapable of playing a normal little girl (because she herself has never been one of those) but that’s okay here, as her character is the channel through which Charlie works for most of the movie. All of the performances work and actually exceeded my initial expectations.

Alas, all good things have to come to an end though, and eventually the movie has to drop the suspense and reveal the identity of Charlie, and that is where this movie becomes a disaster. Like so many other movies out there, especially this year, it feels like the writers reached the moment of truth and discovered they had no plan, so pulled an answer out of their asses, trying to come up with an identity for Charlie that would be guaranteed to surprise the audience. The problem with that solution is that when it’s offered to an audience member smarter than your average bear, they see right through it. It does guarantee that even the most astute audience member won’t deduce the solution based on anything in the movie, because the movie offers up no clues ahead of time (one of the joys of DVD - I rewatched the movie after knowing the film’s ending specifically looking for clues and found none). All of this would be okay if the solution at least felt scary, but unfortunately as something that isn’t really well thought out, it renders the rest of the movie useless, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

More and more these days the concept of the true thriller is proving to be dead. Maybe writers are intimidated by modern day audiences, or honestly believe we are all stupid morons who will believe anything that appears up on the screen. Despite talented performances and a director who seems capable, Hide and Seek is another nail in the coffin of the thriller genre. The big selling point of the DVD release for Hide and Seek is that the disc includes four alternate endings to the movie. In an interesting twist, the first thing the disc offers you (once you get through the advertisements) is a choice of which ending you want attached to the end of the movie. You get to choose when you first start watching the movie whether you want the theatrical ending, or one of four other choices. Of course, until you’ve seen the endings you don’t know what difference any of them makes, but once you have seen them, if you prefer one of them to the theatrical version, that can be the ending you see the next time you watch the movie.

The endings range in severity but most of them carry the same feeling as the conclusion that wound up in theaters. Actually, one of the endings is a bit happier than the rest, but that wasn’t the route the filmmakers wanted to go. If you want to know more about why each ending did or didn’t work, there is a commentary for the endings by director John Polson, screenwriter Ari Schlossbert, and editor Jeffrey Ford. These three offer commentaries over the deleted scenes and the film itself as well, and are actually interesting to listen to. The one element the alternate endings lack is that not a single one of them alters the key moment where the movie goes wrong: the identity of Charlie. All of these endings replace the final scene in the movie, by which point the movie has already gone bad, so one ending doesn’t really make a big difference over another.

There are a slew of deleted scenes, adding up to almost twenty minutes. Like the alternate endings though, very few of them would have made a big difference for the movie. In fact, a few of them expand on the developing relationship between David and Elisabeth Shue’s character (creatively named Elisabeth). I’m actually quite glad these scenes were cut. While I think both De Niro and Shue were good in the film, a relationship between the two of them is a little like watching some hot girl I’m interested in kiss my father or grandfather. I believe in giving all actors a shot in roles, but the twenty year age difference between the two is just too noticeable... and disgusting.

The DVD release also includes animatics of some scenes, intercut with footage from the movie so you can see how certain scenes were originally intended to be filmed. In most cases the animatic is an extended version of the scene so not only do you get to see what was planned and filmed, but what was cut from the planning stage as well. The animatics are voiced over by Polson who explains why the changes were made. There is also a brief featurette about the making-of the movie, although it seems to be ten minutes of promotional material about the stars and the movie haphazardly tossed together.

I really like the options to watch the movie with any of the endings you choose, and this disc contains quite a bit of extras. It’s just a shame it’s all for a movie that fails so miserably, especially since the film had the potential to be a great movie if only things had been planned out better. The movie might be good for a rainy day watch with a loved one, but most likely you’ll be feeling annoyed at how stupid the filmmakers took you to be by the time you’re done watching.