Hide And Seek

Director    John Polson
Starring    Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen
1 stars


5th March 2005

Perhaps more than any other genre, horror films have the most cliches to avoid. If you're going to try and sustain any sense of tension, the last thing you want is your audience second-guessing everything, completely deflating any suspense you might have created in the process - it doesn't make for a scary movie if you flag every scare with a big fat signpost. If successful horror movies tiptoe through the landmine-infested fields of cliche, Hide and Seek puts on massive trainers and runs like a spacker all the way through, ending up in a huge steaming pile of exploded bumguts.

When was the last time you saw Robert De Niro in a really, genuinely good film? It's certainly been a while... I'll help you. It was probably Ronin. That was released in 1998. Seven whole years ago. Since then we've had Men of Honor (pretty poor), Showtime (desperately awful), The Score (a criminal waste of three generations of talent) and Rocky & Bullwinkle (just plain shit) amongst other no-marks. Why does De Niro continue to star in such downright rubbish movies? Fat paycheques? Senility? Christ knows, but one thing I can be sure of is that Hide and Seek is a movie destined to be remembered as a footnote on De Niro's CV, yet another point charting the downward trajectory of his career.

De Niro plays David Callaway, a psychologist who moves into a secluded house in the woods with his young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) after the apparent suicide of his wife. Scarred by the image of seeing her ma quite literally taking a blood bath, the little munchkin understandably goes a bit cuckoo, and her detached behaviour eventually leads to the creation of an unseen imaginary pal called Charlie. When spooky stuff starts going down and the corpse count starts rising, Emily's fictitious friend is fingered as the key culprit, but who really is Charlie? The mildly retarded house owner? The recently bereaved neighbour? The paedophile dad from Happiness? Don't waste your time guessing, the twist is so lame you'd be better off inventing your own ending, which would probably make more sense anyway.

Hide and Seek is desperately bad, a movie so embarrassingly hackneyed it's a wonder it was ever greenlit in the first place. Apparently, a rubbish script + big name actor in need of a new yacht + alarmingly good child actor = slight profits is a formula that works, so hey, who cares if the movie is full of plot holes, or that there's not a genuinely shocking moment in the entire picture? How many horror staples can you fit in 100 minutes? Scary looking old house in the woods? Check. A cat leaping out of a cupboard? Check. Shower curtain reveal shots? Check. Hide and Seek is staler than a year old loaf of bread, and probably more difficult to swallow at that.

The one saving grace is little Dakota Fanning, a child actress so annoyingly gifted that her talent is by far the most frightening thing in the movie. With her hair dyed black and a cold, dead-eyed stare, Fanning does a better Wednesday Addams than Christina Ricci ever could - she's managed to create a character that's genuinely threatening in spite of a dreadful script. Mr. De Niro could learn a lot from this little girl. That's right, arguably the world's greatest living actor is utterly upstaged by a child who isn't even old enough to watch his best pictures. De Niro's delivery is pedestrian and his face portrays faint glimmers of what may appear to be emotions when viewed through an extremely powerful telescope. Where is the man behind Jake La Motta, Jimmy Conway and the young Vito Corleone? Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Hide and Seek is extremely hard to recommend, even given the cheese factor of most of the last decade's teen-heavy hacker flicks. It's just too heavily rooted in convention to ever convince -a duff script, heavy-handed direction and uninspiring characters combine to produce a film that's rotten to the core, desperately aping flicks like The Shining which have more shocks and unsettling moments in 24 frames than Hide and Seek has in its entirety. It's no longer enough to expect De Niro's name on the poster to be a guarantee of any measure of quality. Sorry Bobby, you're going to have to put your plans for a marina on hold and start picking some proper roles if you want to regain my respect.

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