Hide & Seek

HIDE & SEEK. 2005

Director: John Polson

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Hide & SeekHide & Seek (2005) is a perfect example of how a major-film budget, & A-list actors like Robert Di Niro, Dakota Fanning & Famke Jannsen, are not what it takes to make a good horror thriller.

Conversely, a film with an inexpert crew, actors nobody ever heard of, & little more to go on than enthusiasm, can quite often overcome novice status & lack of budget restulting in little horror films of lasting power, anything from the black & white no-budget independent classic Carnival of Souls (1962) to the no-budget slasher Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986).

It isn't the Hollywood Hills status of the actors or the A-budget that insures greatness, but in some cases the A list can positively cripple the remote possibility of moderate effectiveness.

Here's a sample of how obvious everything is in Hide & Seek: In a brief scene while grieving Father & Daughter are moving upstate, we see in a cat-carrier they have a cat. The instant we're shown they have a cat, it seems likely there's going to be a "cat gets killed" scene. We don't get a camera shot of the cat again until it's time for it to get killed.

Hide & SeekJust as blithely, Daddy gets an instant-girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) who is only introduced into the story long enough to provide an extra victim, like Guess Who Gets Killed always in a red shirt on Star Trek.

The entire plot of Hide & Seek could be summed up in a short sentence & that sentence would include the would-be surprise ending which this shallow horsehocky trucks out.

Unfortunately with a story this shallow, a serious commentary isn't possible without giving away the whole film. So this is a major SPOILER ALERT, warning you to read no further if you plan to see this bad film. The film sucks & will not be particularly rewarding no matter what, but it might be even more boring once the one-&-only alleged "suprise" has been given away:

Hide & SeekYoung Dakota Fanning turns in a better than expected ambiguous performance while the audience is duped into "believing" either her invisible friend Charlie is real or she's stark raving insane. But it's her father (cast old enough to be her great-grandfather) who is the murderous psychopath, a fact not officially revealed until about 20 minutes before the end of the film.

After Charlie is revealed, Di Niro for the last quarter-hour gives pretty much the same crappy performance he gave in the bullshit remake of Cape Fear (1991) in which he renders kitschy & dull a role that Robert Mitchum did brilliantly & terrifyingly in the 1962 original. Di Niro was a great, great, great sociopath in Taxi Driver (1976), but psychos have never since then proven to be his forte.

So what we get is an hour & twenty minutes of deceptive editing & totally unreal manipulative dialogue written for Dakota so that she never says what any child would have said ("Charlie is you, Daddy"), all trying to keep the audience from realizing the little girl is not insane, trying to keep us from realizing that her invisible friend Charlie is neither an evil ghost nor Dakota's excuse to cause harm nor a real person sneaking into the house from the basement -- but is only her loony daddy's murderous alternative personality.

Hide & SeekOnly those members of the audience so bored by this boring film that they stopped paying attention will be "surprised" by the reveal. When the reveal is accomplished by-the-numbers but a little too late for anyone to care, what passes for a "climax" is a complete change of tone.

It is now a stalker film with Daddy/Charlie stalking his own daughter with a butcher knife but getting shot relatively easily by Famke Jannsen because not only is the story boring & cliche & predictable, but also cowardly, being unwilling to portray a child genuinely threatened for more than half a minute before BANG the bad guy is dead, which was really no climax at all.

The BANG you're dead part was staged so badly. The final gag has the key cast (Di Niro, Janssen, Fanning) knee-deep in filthy water inside an artificial cave the existence of which is never explained.

The gag required daddy to be closing in on his daughter with a butcher knife & a flashlight that he turns on & off in his daughter's tearful face, but the last time he turns it on, Famke Jannsen has managed unbeknownst to anyone to stand up from where she had fallen in the water & slop around until she finds the gun that had previously been knocked into the water & then slog over to where the child was standing knee-deep while the child slogs off somewhere else -- all this in the blink of a light without the water making a sound of anybody moving -- so when the light comes on the last time, Famke is standing there with a gun, then BANG he's dead.

Hide & SeekSince that ending couldn't've happened, it wasn't very effective.

The story the filmmakers were intentionally telling was never worth telling. The misleading options for a climax might've been more in keeping with the first three-fourths of the film.

Those first three-fourths are a completely different movie, a better one though badly paced. The script tries to mislead the viewer into believing there are only three possibilities:

!) The invisible friend is some kind of evil ghost (the trailer highlighted this possibility more than did the film); 2) the invisible friend is Dakota's insanity; or 3) some extra character barely in the story (neighbor, deputy, rental agent) is somehow Charlie.

We're given one vague hint of another little girl in the neighborhood who had died (a photograph subtly reveals it was of cancer however) so maybe there was a psycho in the neighborhood before Di Niro showed up. The script just heaps on alternate possibilities to try to hide the film's simpleminded inanity.

The hints that it might be someone from outside is never sold very well; & the evil deeds done are beyond the achievement of a small child. So of the three "misleading possibilities" only the possibility that Charlie was a ghost remains. For anyone who thought so, the fact that there is no ghost becomes a disappointing cheat.

And any viewer who did not predict that there is nothing supernatural forthcoming & it's merely Daddy who is psycho, well, the misleading possibilities were potentially less stupid or less boring than this too-obvious & uninterestingly played-out non-revelation.

There is a coda to the film that almost works. On one level it is a standard horror film "Never Mind!" jack-in-the-box -- you know, monster is killed & everyone's safe now, but then we see the monster's baby hatching, so never mind. In this one, we're shown by a camera pan & a simple visual trick that the child -- previously revealed not to be the psycho & to have been saved by the nice lady -- is in fact nuts.

That is as predictable as everything else about the film, but on another level it acknowledges that a kid who spent her life with a psychotic father who kills pets & people including murdering mommy & then he gets shot in the belly by the woman who will become her foster mother, well, being saved by the Nice Lady just might not put everything right after all. And being raised by the woman who killed your daddy might be more disturbing than pleasant. Besides, Dakota Fanning as revoltingly innocent child needed undoing.

The untalented director & piss-poor writer weren't sure even of their coda & shot four other versions, one of which might've been better (having daddy live long enough to get his own personality back & die holding his daughter).

The other versions were rightly jettisoned. But the real point here is, if anyone involved in this turd had at any point been telling a story of even slight merit, they wouldn't've had to feel around in the dark for an ending to the whole silly affair. [END SPOILER ALERT]

This is a story that moves like a glacier toward a moronic climax & so-so coda. Despite that Dakota Fanning gives a better performance than I would've expected from a dewy-eyed kid-actor, despite my fondness for Famke Jannsen, despite that Di Niro is an icon of American acting (bad performances in cheesy or joky movies notwithstanding), despite the atmospheric cinematography & occasionally effective mood of paranoia, the bottom line is that nothing could save this dumb, empty, ignorant, gutless piece of crap script which never deserved to be filmed.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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