By Brian Rentschler
Short version: A disappointing mess. The script and direction are sub-par, and you could open a fish market with all the red herrings in the story.
I don’t think anyone can deny that Robert DeNiro is a very talented actor, but given the incredible missteps in his career over the past few years (Godsend, City by the Sea, The Score), it seems like his career is headed towards the same downward spiral as Harrison Ford’s career. (Random Hearts, anyone?) The latest example is Hide and Seek. Robert DeNiro and Dakota Fanning do admirable acting jobs with the material they are given, but even they can’t save the movie from a lousy script and terribly overblown direction. It is almost completely devoid of scares and suspense, unless you count the plethora of pedestrian “jump scares.”
The credentials of the people behind the scenes don’t exactly inspire confidence. Director John Polson is an Aussie actor whose biggest directing project prior to this one was Swimfan. Writer Ari Schlossberg is a relative newbie; his only previous writing credit on IMDB is a shared story credit for a movie called Lucky 13. And in both their cases, their inexperience sticks out like a sore thumb. Schlossberg’s script is light on scares and suspense, with plot elements that fall mostly flat. I kept getting the impression that he wanted to write a script that would put him in the same league as M. Night Shyamalan, but he didn’t even come close. Besides, after seeing The Village, I’m not sure if aspiring to be Shyamalan is such a good thing.
Far worse than Schlossberg’s lousy script, however, is John Polson’s terrible direction. Quite honestly, it has been a while since I saw a movie directed this badly. The story is full of red herrings, some of which can be attributed to the script, but many of them are courtesy of Polson’s directing. More on that a little later…
The story, such as it is, begins in New York City. Dr. David Callaway (played by Robert DeNiro) is a successful psychologist, but he and his wife Alison (played by Amy Irving) are having serious marital problems. Within the first few minutes of the movie, David finds Alison dead in the bathtub, having committed suicide by slitting her wrists. Their daughter Emily (played by Dakota Fanning) comes into the bathroom and sees her mother’s dead body, although David does not notice that she’s there. The story picks up again several months later in a New York City children’s hospital, where Emily is being evaluated by a shrink named Katherine (played by Famke Janssen), who is a friend and former student of David. The problem is, rather than go through the normal seven stages of grief like everybody else, Emily seems to be getting worse. David decides the best therapy for Emily (and himself) is to move someplace else and start over. Next stop: Woodland, New York.
I have lived in a few small towns throughout my life, and I don’t remember my realtor and the sheriff being on hand to let me in the house, but I suppose in Woodland, that’s standard procedure. At this point, Polson’s weak direction really starts to show. Every person in that town (and I mean every person) immediately starts to come across as ominous. First, it’s the sheriff, who is not quite as friendly as David thought. Then there’s his realtor, Mr. Haskins, whom David finds sneaking outside his house at two o’clock in the morning. Then there are his neighbors, who seem like they’re about ready to go off the deep end. And what’s the significance of all these ominous people? Well, Emily has developed some serious social problems, and she will only confide in an imaginary friend named Charlie. At first David doesn’t think anything of it, but then he starts to find some parts of the house vandalized. He scolds Emily for doing that, but she insists it was Charlie. Before long, Emily is blaming Charlie for things that are far worse than vandalism. At that point, the audience is forced to wonder whether Emily could do all that on her own, or if Charlie might be a real person after all.
With everyone portrayed as ominous, the idea is that Charlie could be anybody. He could even be a figment of Emily’s imagination. There are several obvious ploys throughout the story to make you think you have uncovered the secret of Charlie, but they exist only to drag the movie out even longer. There were at least two endings that I thought were endings, but the movie kept going and going and going and going and…
I won’t dare give away the ending, just in case you are a glutton for punishment and want to see this crapfest for yourself, but don’t expect anything spectacular. You might have fun seeing how long it takes you to figure out the ending ahead of time, or if you can guess the ending. (I didn’t guess the ending right; I wonder what that says about my intelligence level.) Overall, this movie was a disappointing mess. Here we have yet another movie starring Dakota Fanning that I didn’t like. Let’s hope her role in the upcoming War of the Worlds will start to reverse that trend. She’s a very good actress, and she deserves better material than this.