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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Hide and Seek John Polson 2005

How About "Hide and Suck"?

So for those of you who want to know the big secret of Hide and Seek but don't feel like actually plunking down your lettuce to see a film that will doubtlessly suck, this is the review for you. Herein I will reveal the mystery of this tepid, horribly predictable thriller that all but knocks once-great Robert DeNiro from his twitchy, squinty throne of actorly awesomeness and establishes Dakota Fanning as the new Juliette Lewis, who -- after being psychologically tormented by Robert DeNiro -- is destined to be batshit insane in every role she plays for the rest of her career.

My reasoning for revealing the twist is simple: the entire movie falls flat because of it, and it's basically impossible to discuss anything about the film without addressing it. Just in the way that the film tries to shoot around, write around, and dance around the enormous implausibility that makes up the core surprise of the story, trying to review the film without revealing it would be a similar exercise. And as I already had to suffer through two hours of talented actors and competent filmmakers ignoring the giant pink elephant in the middle of the living room, I don't care to repeat the experience here. So if you don't want to know what happens in Hide and Seek, stop reading right now.

In case you didn't pick it up from the commercials, our dear friend Bobby D. is, indeed, his daughter's new imaginary friend Charlie. After the questionable suicide of his wife (Amy Irving, in an utterly thankless role), psychologist David Callaway (DeNiro) moves his adorable yet understandably scarred daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) to upstate New York to try to overcome the tragedy through isolation, cold, and the complete absence of any sort of joy or happiness (hey -- does this guy have a public practice? I love his approach!). Ensconced in a giant house on the edge of a creepy woods, David and Emily soon are visited by a new character, the elusive Charlie, who visits Emily when David is busy scribbling in his journals and who seems to have a clear agenda: drive David insane.

Honestly, if you haven't figured out who Charlie is within the first 15 minutes, you should probably stop watching thrillers altogether and switch to Olsen Twins movies instead. Once the fact is telegraphed by several deliberate details (a smudge of ink on David's hand, a tea kettle that boils too quickly), we get to spend the rest of the movie watching the action play out just as we expect it will and hoping to god that the filmmakers must be messing with us to make such an obvious bait-and-switch. But no, that's all there is to it, and we coast across the finish line barely amused by what ultimately is a cliched, paint-by-numbers psychobabble thriller disguised as a horror film.

At least it's a good-looking one, though. I was further disappointed by this movie because I'm a sucker for good old-fashioned horror elements like rainstorms, spooky old houses, scary caves in dark, wintery woods, and chilly New England locales. And while things eventually become pretty laughable here, for about 20 minutes or so after David and Emily arrive in their new house and Emily discovers Charlie, things are actually pretty creepy and atmospheric. Again, the enjoyment of these elements hinges on your ability to ignore the well-telegraphed clues that you're going to be had by the filmmakers an hour down the line, but the scenes in the dark house with its creaks and drafts and foreboding woods are pretty fun while they last (see also: the similarly cheesy but lush Darkness).

So let's talk cast: Dakota Fanning is turning out to be a pretty versatile and convincing little actress, and this film certainly gives her lots to do. She swings from malicious to cloying to pathetic to evil in the bat of an eye (something that will no doubt cause considerable stress to those around her once she reaches dating age), and does it all without seeming forced or "see -- I can be creepier than that chick from The Ring, and without putting my hair in my face! Take that, Daveigh Chase!". I for one was quite impressed by her performance here, especially considering that she had to convincingly play the part both as a potential villain and as a girl who is watching her father lose his marbles but is unable to tell him that she knows where they are. Impressive for a little spud.

Then there's every other character in the film, who are treated like so much firewood: Famke Janssen literally telephones in her performance (half of her scenes involve her talking to DeNiro on the phone from 100 miles away), and Elizabeth Shue, in a curious comeback role (of sorts). Even considering her Hollow Man-inspired shame spiral, Shue is way too interesting for such a throwaway part that involves her showing up and being unceremoniously murdered almost immediately. Also disconcerting is the fact that in every scene, her breasts enter before she does -- what's with the cleavage, Liz? I mean, I see that you're supposed to be a somewhat desperate thirty-something divorcee who's trying to get a little action from the new Alpha Male in town, but really -- put the kids away on the first date. You look like a slut.

And then there's Bobby D. Ah, dear. So sad. In yet another in a string of horribly misguided role choices, DeNiro has picked a part that relegates him to the "earnest Dad" category for so much of the film (not his strong suit, in case you were wondering) that when he gets to break out into "unbridled lunatic" mode later on, it's so strange that it's laughable. The best way I can put it is this: remember when a young Sean Penn would play a crazy guy and they'd say he was emulating Robert DeNiro? Well, in an odd turn, it seems that nowadays when DeNiro is forced to play crazy, he's imitating Sean Penn. A master cannibalized by his own children? Perhaps. A guy looking to cash in on his fame with a few half-realized roles in easily-shot, bankable movies? More likely. Either way, his Charlie here is a pale comparison to his excellent turns in Cape Fear and Taxi Driver, when the guy actually scared the shit out of everybody. This role is more a combination of his turns in Stanley and Iris and Mad Dog and Glory. And we thought Godsend was the bottom of the barrel!!

Penned-in by the challenge of hiding a main character in plain sight for the entire film without giving anything away to either the audience or the protagonist (or so we think), the filmmakers resort to some clumsy staging to make things work. The one potentially frightening moment of the film -- when Charlie bursts out of a closet and knocks Elizabeth and her breasts out of a window -- is marred by the fact that they can't actually show who's involved in the action, and the cliched POV camerawork robs the scene of any really chill or surprise (we know the guy is in the closet because we were in the closet with him watching the girls talk -- not exactly shocking when he jumps out, then). The convenient "flashback-as-explanation" device is also pretty lame, and shows that the filmmakers really don't have much respect for the intelligence of their audience if they feel that they need to spoon-feed us every detail of what was made quite obvious early-on. In all, a waste of actors, a sweet location, and some great, delicious production design: I'd say hide from this one and seek out something better. Wait -- did I just sound like Gene Shalit? Good.

Rating (out of 5):