HIDE AND SEEK
Directed by John Polso
Produced by Barry Josephson
Written by Ari Schlossberg
Director of Photograpy Dariusz Wolski
Music by John Ottman
Cast: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen & Dylan Baker
2005/101 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.40:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD
No matter how much money it makes, or how many screaming fans fill the theaters, buy the DVDs, or discuss the movies on-line, horror is still seen as second-class film genre, and to many, it's only a notch above porn. With this in mind, it's always surprising to see a true A-list actor star in a horror film. (And when they do, the movie's suddenly become "thrillers" or "psychological suspense".) And while Robert De Niro shocked many by branching out into comedies like ANALYZE THIS and MEET THE PARENTS, it's even more interesting to see him starring in HIDE AND SEEK, a film which could easily be labeled "a psychological thriller", but definitely has roots in horror.
HIDE AND SEEK focuses on David Callaway (Robert De Niro), a psychologist who lives in New York City. When his wife commits suicide, their daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), witnesses the discovery of the body and the trauma sends her into a nearly catatonic stupor. David decides to move Emily and himself to a small town upstate so that they can distance themselves from this family tragedy.
But, even after they move into their serene (and huge) new house, things don't improve, as Emily remains very cold and distant, even hostile at times. David tries to introduce Emily to their new neighbors, including a young girl, but she pushes everyone away. When David befriends a woman named Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue), Emily's behavior becomes even more bizarre. Emily claims that she is spending her time playing with an imaginary friend named Charlie, but she won't tell David anything about Charlie and she becomes very frightened when the name is mentioned. Soon, David begins to find macabre things around the house, such as messages referring to his wife's death written on the bathroom walls. And when the bodies start to pile up, David must ask himself, is this Emily, Charlie, or something worse.
Yes, HIDE AND SEEK does have a story to tell, but at its core, the movie exists only as pure cinema. Screenwriter Ari Schlossberg has constructed a script which plays on our expectations as a movie audience. While we are watching the film and following the story, we are far more busy trying to figure out what is going on, and more importantly, what is going to happen. Movies with twist endings have been around forever, but in this post-SIXTH SENSE and post-FIGHT CLUB age, we go into these films looking for the twist and HIDE AND SEEK feeds into that. The film is loaded with red herrings and there are many elements to keep the audience guessing. (This film actually plays well on home-video, as you can ask the person with you, "What do you think is happening?" without disturbing those around you.) When the twist is revealed, it feels fairly legitimate and doesn't come across as a cheat. If anything, the reveal is a bit too early.
The problem with HIDE AND SEEK lies in the material that the film presents us while we are waiting for the twist. The movie is very slow-paced and at times, it reminded very much of a European film. (Which isn't surprising, as the plot twist would be right at home in an Argento film.) Many viewers may grow weary of the redundant nature of the movie. We understand that Emily has been traumatized and that she is suffering from some severe emotional problems, but her constant bad behavior would be trying and alarming to any parent, so it can be hard to fathom how her psychologist father tolerates it. Also, the movie makes a mistake by pushing Emily's "insanity" to the forefront. Things would have worked better if the viewer had some compassion for her -- instead, she comes across as a brat. In addition, we are teased by a flashback that David keeps having, but astute viewers will figure out what this means early on.
The last third of HIDE AND SEEK clearly lives in the horror/thriller genre, but director John Polson can't seem to decide if the film is supposed to be scary or more along the lines of an ORDINARY PEOPLE family drama. Along with the leisurely pace during the film's first two-thirds, Polson also doesn't seem concerned with effective visuals either. There is one very creepy shot containing Dakota Fanning and a toy clock, but otherwise, the film looks like your standard thriller. On the plus side, the cast is very good. De Niro is fine as the father who is at the end of his rope, and Fanning is actually too good, as her character becomes unlikable. Dylan Baker and Famke Janssen are very good in their roles and certainly bolster the film.
In this age where it seems that every Hollywood horror film is a remake of an Asian film, it's nice to see a film that pays homage to classic thrillers and takes a more Hitchcockian approach to the scares. The movie has some problems, but it's certainly worth a rental. If for no other reason than to try and guess what the twist is.
Ready or not, HIDE AND SEEK is coming to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is being released on DVD in two formats, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is clear for the most part, but there is some visible grain on the image. The image is somewhat dark at times, but never enough to obstruct the action. There is some noticeable video noise on the picture, most notably on the siding on the Callaway's new home. The colors are good and the flashes of red are especially effective. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 audio track. Both tracks sound fine as they provide clear dialogue with no distortion. HIDE AND SEEK has many silent moments, but when the action heats up, the surround sound and subwoofer effects are very good, adding a nice touch to the film.
The HIDE AND SEEK DVD contains a nice amount of extras. The viewer can choose to watch the Theatrical Version of the film, or it can be viewed with one of four alternate endings. These four endings can also be watched individually with optional commentary. Fox has been mentioning these endings in promoting this DVD, and I thought that was a very odd choice until I viewed them. Although three of the endings are quite different from the theatrical cut, they have the same meaning as the final cut. It's very interesting that the filmmakers decided to shy away from the more subtle endings. The DVD has an audio commentary with director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford, and writer Ari Schlossberg. This is a standard commentary as the three discuss the film's story and the shooting of the film. They do a nice job of discussing the structure of the script and what had to be done to hide the twist and create tension. There are 14 Deleted Scenes here (with PLAY ALL) which can be viewed with or without commentary. They are interesting, but don't introduce anything new. "The Making of HIDE AND SEEK" (10 minutes) is a fairly good featurette, as it's not bogged down with clips and has a nice assortment of interviews -- but nothing from De Niro. Finally, we have three "Previs Sequences" which are essentially storyboards for scenes which weren't shot.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©