I never had an imaginary friend growing up, but I do remember someone who did, and I found them…well…rather creepy. This was a bit ironic as the imaginary friend they’d created in order to entertain themselves in lieu of real friends was, in fact, the sole thing that was keeping the real friends away.
So, what does this have to do with the psychological thriller Hide and Seek? Absolutely nothing at all; I just figured the less said about this particular film the better.
Hide and Seek opens with young Emily Calloway (Fanning) being put to bed by her mother (Irving), who gives her the sort of goodnight kiss that someone who doesn’t plan to be around to say good morning would give. Sure enough, Emily’s mom commits suicide during the evening, leaving Emily and her dad, David (DeNiro) alone to pick up the pieces. Emily has an understandably difficult time coping, and David, a noted psychiatrist, decides to move the girl out of the city, and focus on healing her with intensive one on one therapy out in the country. Katherine (Janssen), one of David’s former students who has been caring for Emily, doesn’t agree with David’s plan, but honors his wishes, and releases the girl to him. However, when David and Emily arrive at their new country home, Emily begins to exhibit even more anti-social behavior, and adopts an “imaginary” friend named Charlie. At first, Emily and Charlie seem content to play her favorite game, hide and seek, but, when a hot young local named Elizabeth (Shue) show’s an interest in David, Emily begins acting out violently, and blaming it on Charlie. Initially, David is concerned that his daughter’s on the brink of losing her mind, but, when things begin to truly get out of hand, he comes to the horrifying realization that his daughter’s imaginary friend may not be imaginary after all!
I love Robert DeNiro. He’s one of the world’s finest actors, and has headlined some of the greatest cinematic gifts the movie gods have bestowed upon us. However, as much as I hate to say it, DeNiro isn’t exactly blessed with lots of range. He’s at his best when he’s playing streetwise thugs, vigilantes, or cops on the edge. Sure, he’s done the comedy bit with Meet the Parents, but that only worked because his ex-CIA agent character came off like Travis Bickle in the throes of Alzheimer’s. And, even then, he was still playing someone who was meant to intimidate, which, in my opinion, is DeNiro’s greatest strength. He’s not the kind of actor you’d cast as a small town doctor or a kindergarten teacher or the head of a mime school; he’s Robert F’in DeNiro, man! Give the dude someone to hit with a bat, and he owns the screen. However, cast him as a “brilliant” psychiatrist, and he’s just…well…bad.
Now this isn’t to say he ruins the film- no, the script does a fine job of that –it’s just that his presence doesn’t help it much, either. Meanwhile, creepily effective child starlet Dakota Fanning turns in yet another fantastic performance as Emily; one just wishes she were surrounded by a more appropriate cast and given a better script to work with. Elisabeth Shue has the somewhat thankless role of playing a very attractive young woman who inexplicably falls for a man old enough to be her father despite the fact that they share all of five minutes of screen time together, while Famke Jannsen literally phones it in, as her character spends most of the time consulting with David on the phone from the city. Happiness’ Dylan Baker also shows up as the local sheriff/red herring, who gazes upon Emily with the same sort of creepy intensity he displayed as a burgeoning pedophile in Todd Solondz’s Happiness.
While Hide and Seek does have its moments, the film sort of drags along to a conclusion that is at once surprising and laughably bad, and if I comment any further I’m afraid I’ll give the whole thing away. I may have liked the ending better if they capped it off with one of the darker alternate endings included on the disc, but the general rule of thumb with “kids in jeopardy” films is that they somehow have to end on an up note.
I didn’t hate Hide and Seek, as it was such lightweight stuff that I didn’t really need to invest too much into it. There are some effective scares, a solid performance from Fanning, and, while I may be the only person who thinks so, a surprising(ly silly) ending. I can’t recommend buying the film, but if you’re at a loss for something to watch this weekend give it a rent. Just be sure to follow it up with Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy so you can remind yourself why you liked DeNiro so much in the first place.