Title: Hide and Seek
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: John Polson
Screenwriters: Ari Schlossberg
Starring: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen
There are those who find the entirety of John Polson’s Hide and Seek ludicrous, laughable and worthless. I am not one of them. Perhaps it is because I was engaged in this story, because I had emotional capital invested in its mystery, that its resolution left me disappointed, angry and vowing revenge. The movie turns out to be such an idiotic, bald-faced cheat that the skillful build-up almost makes it worse. I think I might prefer consistent mediocrity to something that lifts you up and then slams you down.
The premise has limitless potential and any number of directions in which to go. A young girl and her father move to the country after the mother’s suicide; there, the girl is tormented by someone or something named Charlie, who seems to relish creating lurid reminders of what happened at 2:06 am just a little while ago. At first it’s just some crayon on the bathroom walls; then the household cat meets an unfortunate end (though not before providing several reliable false alarms), and things escalate from there.
One immediate problem is that Hide and Seek never develops a clear point of view, and as such starts to seem contrived — before long, it becomes obvious that we are headed for a revelation of Shyamalan-like proportions. It would have made more sense to tell this story entirely from the point of view of the father; the mystery would have gained potency, and it would have given the plot a more natural flow. Unfortunately, it’s also a much more difficult way to go, and newbie screenwriter Ari Schlossberg prefers a noncommittal method that allows him to cheat where necessary.
Still, the film undeniably draws you in — not only with its traditional horror elements, which are capably staged by Polson, but with its vague, intriguing suggestions that something is going on beneath the surface. Why, for example, does David (Robert De Niro) always seem to wake up at that fateful time of 2:06 am and have a brief flashback to some sort of party? And what about the creepy neighbors — red herrings or malevolent conspirators? The movie is structured as if it were possible to piece these elements together and arrive at a coherent solution.
Indeed it is possible to figure out what’s going on, but it is less a function of deductive reasoning than of knowing horror film conventions and having seen movies like this before. Schlossberg’s twist — which Fox is feverishly protecting by shipping the last reel of the film separately from the rest — is a tired old shocker, employed in numerous films very recently; I am personally sick of it. Worse, it creates all sorts of implications that the story cannot support, and a look back at the film reveals enough holes to sink a battleship.
That’s a dispassionate assessment, but the whole thing is a stunning disappointment. “Injustice” is really the best way to describe it — we get embroiled in this story and wind up with nothing to show for it. The brouhaha over the last reel is nothing more than a desperate January publicity stunt, as there is nothing to protect; the “twist” is shocking only in its idiocy.
I give the movie a passing grade because of the masterful technical work of the first two acts, and because 10 year-old Dakota Fanning gives a killer performance as the creepiest little girl this side of The Ring. De Niro can’t be faulted for picking projects that let him do strange and fun things, though they may be schlocky, and he does solid work here despite his one-note role (he says “honey” a lot). But as an experience, Hide and Seek earns the lowest marks, leading us on to a conclusion that’s asinine and predictable, and then a final shot that’s just inexplicable.