"If an hour and 45 minutes of simulated emotional child abuse is your thing…"
Hide and Seek is yet another nail hammered into the coffin of the American Horror film. It joins the ranks of Suspect Zero, The Forgotten and White Noise by relying on cheap scares, ponderous pacing, and children in peril to raise the emotional ante. The result is nearly unwatchable.When morose psychiatrist David Calloway (Robert DeNiro) discovers the body of his wife Alison in the bathtub with her wrists cut, he inadvertently exposes the carnal scene to his young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning), traumatizing her. With Emily approaching catatonia, Calloway decides to take her away from New York City to a secluded house by a lake to recuperate.
(I wish we could have seen the real estate add Calloway responded to when choosing his new house: Picturesque single family home-well taken care of-plenty of closets for the cats to jump out of- Rattling panes-Disturbing bathroom with claw foot tub (perfect for remembering that special suicide!)- Explore the spooky cave in the lonely woods behind the house or investigate the old subterranean vault hidden in closet- troubled and perturbed neighbors WILL bring homemade preserves- cozy for fun. )
Emily does not respond well to the new location. She defaces and throws away her dolls, becomes distant and at times vicious towards her father and other adults around her, and she begins to express a connection with an imaginary friend. At first the benign “Charley” is simply someone Emily uses to play hide-and-seek. But “Charley” is no “Drop-Dead-Fred” and soon it becomes pretty clear that “Charley” blames Calloway for the death of his wife and is out to punish him.
As the despondent Calloway desperately tries to help his daughter, Charley’s acts become more and more horrific. Is Emily so disturbed, she is becoming a monster? Does Charley have some basis in reality? Do the creepy neighbors or the stone-faced sheriff have anything to do with these peculiarities? Is something supernatural going on in the house/ cave/ basement/ town?
As Calloway, DeNiro tries to capture a sense of stoic desperation, but the sluggish despondency in his performance considerably slows the film and alienates the viewer. Conversely, watching Emily’s suffering is downright painful. While Dakota Fanning perfectly captures the way grief that can wipe the vivacity from a child, we are forced to watch her character psychologically tormented again and again. Her emotional thrashings are just as relentless and sadistic as the torture scenes in The Passion of the Christ.
Hide and Seek is cluttered with overused horror elements: there’s a spooky imaginary friend (more effectively used in The Shining and The Exorcist), a soundtrack that attempts to scare you with loud twangs and nervous whinnying, and long slow pans down dark hallways. There’s even a cat that runs screeching from an opened closet. How often have you seen that one? These clichés further mar what little credibility Hide and Seek had.
Predictably all of this is leading to an obligatory twist ending.
Does every horror movie really have to have a twist ending? Poor M. Night Shyamalan is probably spending sleepless nights trying to come up with a fresh twist. (I think the biggest twist in a future M. Night Shyamalan picture would be if there weren’t any twists.) The “surprise” ending in Hide and Seek is not only unreasonable, but also downright unoriginal. A similar movie already surprised audiences with the same ending last spring. The unoriginal conclusion may clear up any ambiguities the audience had, but it certainly is not satisfying.Director John Polson and writer Ari Schlossberg desired to create a thoughtful psychological horror film, but ended up with a mess of a film that is neither thought provoking or entertaining. The true horror lies in the viewer’s experience of watching time-consuming cliché-ridden nonsense.