Review by Mark Walters

Robert De Niro is no stranger to dark storylines.  His early films like TAXI DRIVER explored the idea of a man who loses his mind as a result of the warped society around him.  More recently, in the remake of CAPE FEAR, he portrayed a psychopath with multiple layers of evil.  But lately he's been doing more lighthearted fare like ANALYZE THIS and ANALYZE THAT, MEET THE PARENTS and MEET THE FOCKERS, or even an unexpectedly silly role like the one he had in the ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE movie.  The nice thing about someone like De Niro is he can play just about any type of personality, and make it believable.  In the new movie HIDE AND SEEK, he portrays a man who loses his wife, and has to deal with his young daughter's disturbing depression.

The film begins by showing us Emily Callaway (Dakota Fanning) and her mom Alison (Amy Irving) enjoying a day at the park.  It's the first day of the new year in New York City.  These two are happy with one another.  You can clearly see that Emily loves her mom.  But her psychologist dad David (De Niro) is obviously bothered by something, and his relationship with Alison apparently has some hidden problems.  That night Alison commits suicide very unexpectedly.  David puts Emily in a hospital to deal with the loss, where she is cared for by one of his former students named Katherine (Famke Janssen).  In an effort to start things over, David takes Emily and moves to a new house in a small town outside of New York.  Shortly after the move, Emily makes a mysterious new friend named Charlie.  She begins talking about Charlie all the time, but David suspects this new friend is imaginary, and his daughter's way of dealing with the loss of her mother.  The two meet various people around town, including an unfriendly sheriff, some strange neighbors, and a pretty divorcee named Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue).  David wants desperately for Emily to make some real friends, but his daughter is going through something that even he can't understand.  Bad things start happening, and it appears Emily is to blame.  She insists that "Charlie" is the one responsible.  David eventually becomes desperate to find out what is really going on and why.  But the answer he finds may be the most disturbing thing of all.

 I'm a little surprised that Robert De Niro would do another film involving a creepy kid and scary events occurring, so soon after GODSEND, which had a very similar plot.  HIDE AND SEEK is creepy, and does make you think, but ultimately ends up a disappointment.  De Niro is good as the concerned dad figure, but this isn't a challenging role for him.  The real star here is Dakota Fanning, who despite her previous cute roles, ends up being one of the most disturbing little girls seen on film since THE EXORCIST.  Sometimes just blank stares from her are enough to make you fidget in your seat.  The supporting characters are all played appropriately, for the most part.  Elisabeth Shue comes across as little more that a tempting female presence for David to warm up to, though I had had a hard time buying her desire to see him, particularly due to the obvious age difference with these two.  Dylan Baker has a few key scenes as the sheriff of the town, and he's used for just the right amount of time.  Amy Irving turns in an impressive performance with very little screen time.  Her scenes pretty much occupy the beginning of the film, but leave a lasting impression.  Famke Janssen, who just looks better and better every time I see her, is good playing the caring doctor to Emily, though she also has only select moments throughout the film.  Overall it's creepy and unsettling for at least the first hour or so.  But all of the scary moments ultimately build up to an unsatisfying ending.  Chances are you've already figured it out just by watching the trailer.  And the biggest mistake comes after the twist is revealed, since the film then drags on for quite a bit longer.  Once you know the payoff, the movie should pretty much wrap up.  But it doesn't.  We've seen this story before, maybe not with this exact telling, but it's still familiar.  John Polson's (SWIMFAN) direction is solid, and he could definitely handle more horror films with an effective result, but only if the scripts are better.  Polson did manage to do a lot with a little.  Maybe I've just grown to expect better films from Robert De Niro, or maybe I'm ready for a horror film that does something I don't expect for a change.  Either way HIDE AND SEEK left a bad taste in my mouth.  However, if you're into scary movies, and don't set your expectations too high, you might really enjoy this one.  I really thought it was going somewhere truly scary, until it proved me wrong.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give HIDE AND SEEK a 5.

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