Cast & Crew
Robert De Niro
by Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., Barry Josephson and John
Rogers; Directed by John Polson; Written by
Thriller (US); 2005; Rated R for frightening sequences
and violence; Running Time: 100 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
January 28, 2005
by DAVID KEYES
and Seek" is the kind of movie that gets made when
a filmmaker thinks he or she has come up with a unique narrative
ploy to exercise on audiences, an endeavor so wrapped up
in flinging around ambiguous insight and suggestion that
it more or less directs itself, seemingly convinced that
there is enough foundation there to warrant a unique payoff.
Alas, anyone who has seen more than two or three thrillers
in the recent years could easily crush the confidence shared
by these filmmakers; not only do the director and writer
fail to recognize obvious formula, but they also fall short
of providing it with the right guidance to at least hold
one's basic interest. Their picture is a self-indulgent
mess; unexciting, shoddy, predicable, tedious and detached,
and frankly not all that amusing even on a level of mindless
The one persistent
trait that takes hold throughout this 100-minute vehicle:
the evident amateurism on display behind the camera. Actor-turned-filmmaker
John Polson, whose most recent theatrical outing was the
much-maligned "Swimfan," is not one of those directors
who thrives at driving suspense over extended periods of
time. Rather than capitalize on the potential insecurity
of an audience as a more successful filmmaker would do,
Polson stacks his films with rapid impulses - that is, brief
moments of shock that last for three or four seconds before
the film deadens itself again and then immediately moves
on to the next platform. Because it is easier for a moviegoer
to build up resistance against a sparse rhythm rather than
a constant one, though, this is an even bigger injustice
to cinematic thrillers than being just ordinary or predictable.
"Hide and Seek" is an example of Polson playing
to that disadvantage, and audiences will no doubt find all
of his pithy attempts at scares to be little more than points
of annoyance, even apart from the whole auto-pilot approach
of the plot.
The story opens
somewhere in upstate New York, where David Callaway (Robert
De Niro), a successful psychologist, is living with his
wife and daughter. Unfortunately, the marital relationship
isn't going all that well; husband and wife pass each other
in halls and in the bathroom like virtual strangers, staying
civil, we gather, just for the sake of keeping their daughter
Emily (Dakota Fanning) happy. How long this charade has
lasted is anyone's guess, but Alison (Amy Irving) has apparently
reached the breaking point of it all towards the opening
of the picture. After daughter and husband are in bed, she
quietly slips into the bathtub and commits suicide.
The family members
are, naturally, scarred by the incident. None perhaps as
much as little Emily herself, who spends large amounts of
time doing little but staring off into empty space with
giant sober eyes. David's colleague Katherine (Famke Janssen)
suggests keeping her around her familiar setting to help
ease the pain and provoke recovery, but he opts for a different
route: escaping the suburbs completely and moving into the
countryside, where he purchases a big empty house so that
just he and his grieving daughter can get away from it all.
That David hopes his she comes out of her mental isolation
is always his main goal, but even he is rather surprised
when she starts to emerge from it rather quickly after the
relocation. For the first time in months since her mother's
suicide, Emily's face brightens up, and she begins laughing
again. She also does a bit of wandering outside the house,
a notion that one would suspect meant the little girl was
meeting new friends to help her along with her pain. But
father's inquiries into this new-found happiness reveal
a potentially-bigger problem. Emily has not met a new friend
per se, but rather has created an imaginary one in her head,
and refers to him as "Charlie."
Fine and dandy?
Hardly. Pretty soon, it is evident that this "Charlie"
has a strong hold on Emily's life. She refuses to accept
potential new friends, gets into trouble, and even speaks
crossly towards her father around his new friend Elizabeth
(Elizabeth Shue), whom he meets in the local town and invites
to dinner on occasion. Consults between David and Katherine
lead to all sorts of theories about Emily's latest mental
state - one is that she merely takes great satisfaction
in protecting the existence of a friend that everyone is
so dismissive about, while another suggests she has splintered
from reality because of the earlier trauma. In either case,
though, something strange and mischievous begins happening
under Mr. Callaway's roof, and when the family cat is drowned
in the upstairs bathtub (not a location coincidence, mind
you), he has to wonder whether his daughter is really capable
of something so heinous
or if, indeed, "Charlie"
is a little more real than anyone might have initially thought.
difficulty with a premise of this nature is in finding the
right balance of moods. In other words, when it comes to
a plot that requires significant personal trauma as well
as brooding tension, how do you even the scales? You don't
- common knowledge requires you to choose one over the other,
especially if they collectively create potential disconnect.
Here, however, the filmmakers play up the totally wrong
side of the emotional thrust. Emily's trauma isn't so much
a driving force as much as it is a point of reference to
get all sorts of momentary thrills and chills going, a prospect
that, as the movie descends further into a nightmare of
familiarity, becomes highly infuriating. As a full-fledged
drama, the movie might have made more sense, but as a straight
horror film it is a collection of missed opportunities and
errors. The fact that both De Niro and Fanning play the
material like straight family tear-jerker for most of the
time certainly doesn't hurt this assessment, either.
But what of that
ending, huh? One can practically imagine the blank stares
and shaking heads of viewers left in disbelief here. It's
one thing for the material leading up to the climax to be
mind-numbingly routine; supply it with a conclusion that
reeks of desperation, and you wonder just how little time
it took for the writer to actually come up with it (in fact,
if you wanted to split hairs, we could almost accuse her
of watching a certain thriller from 2004 and duplicating
the twist verbatim). The even sadder part is that the resolution
doesn't make much sense narratively, either; aside from
their being no genuine build-up to the reveal, there is
also no tangible evidence in the prior material to support
its weight. It is a red herring that is dissonant and on
a level of reasoning completely separated from everything
else. But of course, by that point, it isn't so much a new
dilemma as it is a final nail in the coffin.
you look at the recent resumes of De Niro and his co-stars,
you have to wonder why any of them felt compelled to be
involved in the production of this thing to begin with.
Who does it benefit? What possible joy can one of them get
here, other than being able to say that they added another
notch to their creative belts? Famke Janssen has garnered
an all-important "hip" vibe with her appearances
in the "X-Men" films, while De Niro and Fanning
have seen wise decisions populate their careers in the recent
years (he most recently with "Meet the Fockers,"
she even more recently with appearing in Spielberg's upcoming
remake of "The War of the Worlds"). If this was
merely an exercise on their part to try something outside
of their repertoire, then hopefully it is now out of their
system. Good actors belong in good movies; they do not,
under any circumstances, belong in "Hide and Seek."
© 2005, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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