Well, They’ve finally succeeded in making the relatively new genre of Psychological Thriller a complete cliche. Thanks! Now we have a whole new genre of horror-related films to despise, avoid, and roll our eyes at. Even though psychological horror itself has existed for years, in films like Polanski’s The Tenant, Hitchcock’s Psycho, and basically any of Ingmar Bergman’s films, it hasn’t gone by that name for very long. With the onset of the early 1990’s, The Silence of the Lambs presented to us a terribly good way to get big name stars to sully their hands with what was otherwise a “horror” script”. Psychological horror/thriller has ever since been a booming genre and such megastars as Morgan freeman, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, and now Robert DeNiro are now regulars. Unfortunately, since Hollywood must overplay everything to death, the psychological thriller has fast become a clichÇ, with Identity, Taking Lives, and now Hide and Seek as inheritors.
Hide and Seek borrows imagery and ideas from many other films… Most like Cold Creek Manor in flavor, it actually snatches tidbits of The Amityville Horror, Donnie Darko, and even Beetlejuice in order to engross the audience. This might initially sound like a good idea, but think about it: Who doesn’t love Chocolate, Bacon, and Lemonade individually? However, if you put them in the blender and press “high”, you end up with a big pile of brown crap. Which is exactly what Hide and Seek turns into at the climactic end. Initially intriguing, Hide and Seek begins very eerily, with some truly touching scenes played out by DeNiro, Fanning, and Irving (Amy Irving plays Fanning’s mother), but end sup becoming increasingly more trite, predictable, and boring. Rife with obvious Red Herrings, Hide and Seek uses the mantra of “Come out Come out wherever you are” to try to lull the viewers into a childlike coma (presumably so they don’t think too hard about the plot).
Emily (Dakota Fanning) is Robert DeNiro’s daughter, suffering because her thoughtless mother committed suicide in the bathtub one night. DeNiro, forced to raise her alone, moves them out to the country in order to escape the memories of the “big city” that plague Emily. Famke Jennsen is sweet and nondescript as DeNiro’s friend and fellow psychologist, and though she urges him to let Emily stay with her for observation, he refuses and sets out for a new life. As soon as they arrive at their new home, Emily becomes more and more withdrawn. She claims that she has met a new “friend” named Charlie, with whom she enjoys playing hide and seek. AT first harmless, the idea of Charlie becomes increasingly unhealthy as Emly starts blaming her imaginary friend for the “bad” things she does. The drowning of the family cat, the odd scribbling on the bathtub walls, and the erratic behavior all lead DeNiro to believe his daughter is seriously disturbed. As it gets worse, some of Charlie’s actions seem impossible for Emily to have committed, and DeNiro begins to wonder if maybe Charlie isn’t just a figment of Emily’s Imagination. But who is Charlie? Is he Emily’s split personality? Is he a ghost? Is he the spooky neighbor, Steve, whose daughter has just died? Is it the snoopy real estate agent who sold them the house? Is Charlie the town sheriff, who seemingly has keys to their new home? Or is it something far worse…a ghost, maybe? Some evil Spirit? The mystery, unfortunately, is not so much of a mystery because it appears glaringly obvious from some vital signals in the beginning (think when you realized that Bruce Willis was dead in “the Sixth Sense and went ‘Oh yeahahhh’).
Unfortunately this film is so formulaic, so contrived, that it’s really almost hard not to laugh when one is supposed to be afraid. Many false “cat scares” at appropriately set times, plot turns, and some really awful one-liner taglines just make Hide and Seek embarrassing. It’s as if the writers took a Standard Thriller Script out of a textbook, and filled in the characters’ names and actions in the pre-set areas of the story. Did I say formulaic? The “twist” (because there has to be a twist, and a major one, before Hollywood will even look at a thriller script these days) is not so profound as to warrant the hype, nor is it something new. In fact, we’ve seen this twist many times over the past five years (just rent anything that has Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in it) and it isn’t getting any fresher, newer, or interesting any time I see it. In fact, it’s getting rather dull.
Why Robert DeNiro decided to take on such an obviously unoriginal story is beyond me, as he is certainly one actor who is hurting neither for image, money, nor good roles. It’s a shame that he is being cast with talent-less has-beens like Elizabeth Shue, because his ability is being wasted. Better to stick to harmless gangster comedies and avoid such clichÇ nonsense.
The one bright spot in this film is Dakota Fanning, who commits Grand Theft Movie by nailing all of her scenes, even the stupid ones, in ways that probably makes Elizabeth Shue emerald with envy. She competes on screen with DeNiro and manages to make him seem like a hack. Without Fanning, this movie would have been a complete nuclear disaster. As it stands, it is only a major freeway accident. Regrettably, if you slow down to get a good look, you’ll be sorely disappointed.