When making a thriller, especially ones with supernatural and psychological overtones, it is vitally important to at the very least not make the audience laugh unintentionally. HIDE AND SEEK fails to make it over even that low bar. Instead, it quickly devolves into a camp parody of everything it purports to be about, including Robert De Niros acting ability.
What we have here is a troubled kid, Emily (Dakota Fanning) living in a large old house with lots of long corridors and a spooky basement. Emily is troubled after stumbling into the scene of her mothers suicide. Fanning, hair dyed brown for the role, spends the film with a pinched mouth and a surfeit of shadow under her oddly staring eyes. The effect is like Wednesday Addams, only moreso, and without the wit. She and her father, David (De Niro), have moved from New York City to that large old house in the country to put the past behind them. Unfortunately, on her first day in the new place, Emily meets Charley, a mysterious friend that only she can see. Charley immediately starts to make mischief, including re-creating the suicide scene and telling Emily secrets about her parents that she oughtnt to know. Anyone with the sense of an elm tree could tell that Emily needs to be in therapy, probably intensive, not to mention a few serious time outs. Instead, David, a trained psychologist, demonstrates his professional skills by being tentative and conciliatory around his spooky daughter, even palpably intimidated. When Emily eviscerates bugs and does something asocial to her playdates doll, instead of a heart-to-heart about appropriate behavior, theres a rousing round of lets pretend it didnt happen.
As the plot becomes more convoluted, the weird neighbor and his chirpy wife who harbors her own set of problems, a new woman in the person of Elisabeth Shue sparking some interest from David, the realtor who does suspicious things, the people in it get dumb and dumber. Only child psychologist Famke Janssen, who keeps telling David that his kid needs help, shows a spark of brain power, but it quickly fizzles. And so it is that pretty much everyone in the film, including Janssen, does things like going down into the dark and mysterious basement, usually when the lights have gone out, to investigate the creepy noises emanating therefrom. I counted three different people doing just that before I lost interest in keeping track. And why is it that no one, not even the sheriff (Dylan Baker) who always happens to be nearby, shows any concern that Emily isnt in school with the other kids. Are there no truancy laws in small town New York?
HIDE AND SEEK, which is Charleys favorite game, is irritatingly ponderous. The audience is asked to play along in the hopes that the payoff will be worth the tedium. It isnt. Instead there is the sure and certain knowledge that almost two hours of one’s life have been wasted and that Robert De Niro, once hailed as the best actor of his generation, has made another bad career choice.