226 – Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is the kind of movie that desperately wants to be a taut psychological thriller but winds up spelling out its ending about twenty minutes too early. Robert De Niro plays a New York psychologist whose wife (the seldom-seen Kate Capshaw) kills herself by slitting her wrists in a bathtub, thus traumatizing the couple’s young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). In an attempt to start over, the good doc David bundles up Emily and takes them to upstate New York for some R&R.

David tries to find new friends for Emily in the secluded, picturesquely rustic community and settles on Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter (or niece, I’m not sure which, but it’s not important, since we see the girl in only a couple of scenes). But it’s for naught, as Emily apparently already has a new, albeit imaginary friend named Charlie. “He’s fun,” she says monotonically. “Fun like mommy.”

David and Emily have moved into a large frame house in the proverbial middle of nowhere, the latter location noted onscreen by the real estate agent guy. But lo and behold, they do have close neighbors: Laura and Steven, who may or may not have their own super secrets. Just so you know our main characters don’t have the skeletons-in-the-closet market cornered.

David tries to understand his daughter’s reason for having this new friend, and his doc pal Katherine (Famke Janssen) tells him it’s just Emily’s way of dealing with her mom’s death. But then weird things begin to happen; is it Emily acting out, or is the house EEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL? Or are screenwriters just lazy?

There’s plenty of atmosphere, and the acting really is pretty good, considering the genre, but aside from some genuinely creepy moments, there’s not much that grabs you and shakes you upside down, as real taut psychological thrillers should. The final twenty minutes of the movie will make or break the movie for you. If things come as a surprise to you at that point, then you’ll probably like the movie; if you’ve been studiously figuring them out all along, this’ll sink it for you.

It’s a pleasure to see Bob De Niro work, and he’s surprisingly effective in a role that would normally go to Harrison Ford or even Mel Gibson – tough but tender. I kept expecting him to whirl around, eyes bulging, and tell Emily to “shut the f— up!, g–d— it!” Or words to that effect. De Niro isn’t quite cuddly, but he’s not entirely curmudgeonly, either, so that’s a plus. Fanning’s pretty unsettling, as she should be, and it’s good to see her acting instead of cute-ing. The rest of the cast is basically interchangeable (although Dylan Baker’s fantastic in his few scenes as the local sheriff); Roger Ebert notes that the Law of Economy of Characters does come into play.

Hide and Seek: **


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