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Hide and Seek

There are two great performances in Hide and Seek (2005). The first is by then-10-year-old Dakota Fanning, who plays Emily — a girl haunted by an increasingly violent imaginary friend named "Charlie." Fanning does one of the great creepy-kid turns in recent memory; with her hollowed-out eyes and young/old mien, she's a 21st-century Wednesday Addams off her meds. One of the movie's running ironies (probably unintentional) is that everyone keeps saying how "beautiful" and "adorable" Fanning's character is, when in fact director John Polson has gone out of his way to make her look like nothing so much as an animated Gorey sketch. The second great performance is by David Chandler, as the Realtor who helps Emily and her father (Robert De Niro) move to a remote house in the country following Mom's (Amy Irving) bathtub suicide. Chandler's only in two scenes, playing one of the many creepy townsfolk in Woodland, New York (pop. 2,206), but he manages to find the strangest, most interesting way to deliver every line. Watch for an early moment where he says an entire sentence with his face scrunched up in a corner, with one eye closed. Or, you know, don't — because in every other respect, Hide and Seek is kind of a stinker. Please note that neither excellent performance is given by Mr. De Niro, the film's first-billed star. Yes, one of cinema's great talents is once again looking a bit bored while coasting for a paycheck, presumably to fund his Tribeca Film Center or another restaurant; his 1997-98 run of Wag the Dog, Jackie Brown, and Ronin remains his last truly great streak as an actor. To borrow a phrase from David Foster Wallace: When you watch De Niro deliver lines like, "Spaghetti and meatballs is your favorite dish — you're not hungry?," the suggestion is one of a very powerful engine in low gear. Still, De Niro's emasculated psychologist dad — unable to comprehend his daughter's problems, speaking in therapy-babble — is only part of the problem. The film, written by Ari Schlossberg, is part of a bothersome new wave of Hollywood hackwork: Producers are wrapping their ham-fists around the handsomely shot dread and twist endings of M. Night Shyamalan and The Ring, then transforming these devices into derivative kitsch. Like White Noise, Hide and Seek feels like an endless setup with minimal, or idiotic, or indecisive (given the four alternate endings on this DVD) payoff. While we should applaud films that take their time establishing character and premise, Polson ratchets it up so slowly for so long — surrounding our protagonists with eerie happenings, references to The Shining, and off-kilter neighbors — that only the surprise appearance of Satan or a feral Joan Crawford as "Charlie" would feel like adequate dramatic reward. While there's actually some effective misdirection, the second half of the film is one of those brainless cat-and-mouse affairs where people holding knives and guns decide that tackling their opponent is an appropriate course of action. And speaking of engines in low gear, the "girlfriend" role is split between two solid actresses, Elisabeth Shue and Famke Janssen — the latter obviously written into the film because the producers didn't want to have a 10-year-old brandishing a pistol. It's a shame. In every other respect, Fanning's the one person in this movie dispensing lethal force.

Fox's DVD release of Hide and Seek features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Five separate versions of the film are on the disc, including the theatrical cut and four additional cuts with alternate endings (the user is asked to select a version when the disc is inserted). Supplements include a commentary with director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford, and scenarist Ari Schlossberg, the four alternate endings on a separate menu with optional commentary and a "play all" feature, 14 deleted scenes, also with commentary and "play all," the featurette "The Making of Hide and Seek" (10 min.), and three "pre-vis" sequences created early in the production. Keep-case.
M.E. Russell



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