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Hide and Seek

Directed by John Polson. Starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo. (2005, R, 105 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 28, 2005

Hide and Seek You might have thought it impossible that 9-year-old trouper Dakota Fanning could, at such a tender young age, appear in a more horrific nightmare vision than the misguided Bo Welch/Mike Myers missile of sorrow The Cat in the Hat, but I’m here to tell you that you’d be wrong. Fanning, whose impossibly deep, vertiginous peepers rival those of any animé character you’d care to name for sheer orbed wonder, is perhaps too young to pick on just yet, but her turn in Hide and Seek, a psychological thriller that dangles over the precipitous edge of awfulness a full 90 minutes before toppling into that abyss with the resounding clatter of Robert De Niro’s ham-on-rye overacting, is just inches away from Halloween playacting throughout. De Niro is NYC-based child psychologist David Calloway, who moves himself and daughter Emily (Fanning) to the wooded hills of upstate New York after the suicide of his wife sends the traumatized tot to Bedlam with a permanent thousand-yard stare. Once there, however, surrounded by dead foliage and neighbors who seem just a tad off their sell-by date themselves, Emily begins spending her downtime with invisible friend Charlie, who may or may not be the source of all the latent rage in the house. Bad things happen in rapid succession, as David’s co-worker Elisabeth Shue quickly surmises, and eventually there’s blood all over the bathroom. Again. Fanning, to her credit, makes a fine lunatic: part Victorian china doll, part Dennis Hopper circa 1972. If they ever make a live-action version of pop culture gothling Emily the Strange, she’s the one to call, too: Her black-rimmed sockets practically scream Harmed & Dangerous. Director Polson helmed the equally oddball Swimfan a while back, another psychological rattletrap that never bothered to fine-tune its lunatic underpinnings. Hide and Seek is a more ambitious affair, chockablock with weird moments that leave you thinking that this – maybe, perhaps, probably not – could be a keeper. He manages to pull the hair-raiser strings fairly well for the first two acts, as Emily mopes around the house with a creepy smile and bad attitude straight out of The Bad Seed, drawing pictures of people dying and shadowy black figures emerging from her closet, while De Niro putters around the almost-empty manse looking as pained as if he’d stepped on a kitty skull. It all falls apart at the end, however, and in such a loud and abrasive way that it makes Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain look like a model of restraint. Polson’s point (working from a script by Ari Scholssberg) seems to be that kids are never as creepy as their parentage, which fits snugly with my theory that watching Robert De Niro as a doting dad will forever be overshadowed by our collective mental image of him as Travis Bickle. Hardly a fate worse than death for an actor (that would be being remembered as Fearless Leader from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle), but fateful nonetheless.
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