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HIDE AND SEEK

SYNOPSIS:
Emily Callaway (Dakota Fanning) and her psychologist father David (Robert De Niro) move to a small rural community in upstate New York after Emily's mother (Amy Irving) commits suicide, to try and give Emily a new start, so she can overcome her trauma. But Emily soon starts talking about her new friend Charlie, who seems to be an imaginary character with a terrifying vendetta - against her father. Local single mum Elizabeth (Elizabeth Shue) tries to be friends but even her daughter runs scared when faced with a distressingly traumatised Emily. David's one time student, Katherine (Famke Janssen) is Emily's only friend, other than Charlie, but she is an hour's drive away. And Charlie seems to get ever more deadly by the day.

Review by Louise Keller:
I jumped twice in Hide and Seek, but John Polson's new thriller has only a good, but painfully wasted cast to recommend it. The trouble with the film is that none of it is believable. First time screen writer Ari Schlossberg has been so intent to follow the genre formula, he has forgotten to make us believe in the characters and their situations. There is no room for Polson to show much of the directing style he displayed in his US directing debut Swimfan, and small things irritated me from the start.

Hide and Seek may well be one of those projects that reeked with potential on paper - at least that is the only reason I can imagine that might have enticed Robert DeNiro to accept the role of David, a grief-crazed psychologist who leaves New York after the death of his wife (Amy Irving). He takes his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) to a large country house near isolated woodlands, and says he hopes having fun might be what she needs. 'Trauma causes pain,' he says, and when Emily starts talking about 'Charlie', his colleague Katherine (Famke Janssen) suggests that 'Charlie' could be the imaginary friend Emily has fabricated. Favourite dolls get discarded and disfigured, but then things become more sinister and the body count starts. What does it mean when Emily says 'Charlie did it'? Is she making it up, or could it be one of the red herring characters such as Dylan Baker's slimy local Sheriff, the very strange real estate agent, or the zombie-like neighbours. Oscar winner Elisabeth Shue's Elizabeth has to overcome terrible script inconsistencies throughout her screen time, and the development of her relationship with David is nonsensical.

All the cast is excellent and Dakota Fanning continues to impress with wide-eyed innocence, this time accentuated by dark circles and a shoulder-length dark wig. The script is full of clichés with phrases like 'talk to me' and 'let's hope you don't wind up like her.' But I spent most of the 100 minutes waiting for something to happen. There is the mandatory effects-driven soundtrack, squeaking doors, lonely chimes tingling in the wind and plenty of dim lighting. In fact, the lighting could almost be a character in the film - a very poor one, and the tool for manipulation. It's a disappointing result and blame can be thrown entirely on the scriptwriter.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hide and seek is the game they play in hell. Or at least in this hell, which travels wherever Emily and her father David go. After she witnesses her mother's dramatic death - or at least the aftermath of a slashed wrist suicide in a bath - Emily freaks out. She's nine or so and we certainly understand her trauma. What we don't understand is who this Charlie is; he seems to be a Bad Influence on her, gradually moving up to monster status. The mystery adds fuel to the creepy fire, and Dakota Fanning is the film's greatest asset.

Fanning is a child actor who can deliver melodramatic lines and make them seem profoundly multi-layered. She's wise beyond her years, yet she doesn't come across as precocious. Her ability to convey the duality of her character - frightened little girl and scary who-knows-what - is never compromised. She acts DeNiro off the screen. But then poor DeNiro is miscast; you can't believe his David is a fun loving dad who bakes apple pie. He doesn't have the best dialogue, and he's a rather-too-old dad to a nine year old. But enough about that, for fear of spoiling what surprises there are in this fumbled fright flick.

Australian filmmaker John Polson shows an understanding of the genre, and he builds tension to great effect, and with a more original (and well developed) script, he could do great things. In fact, perhaps he's too well versed in the genre, judging by the final shot, which only serves to confuse the plot. The only other directing stumble comes in a shot where we see David lock his door in vague fear of his neighbours, followed immediately by another shot of Elizabeth arriving, but the door and the locks are all different.

It's not a critic's film, despite great work from the cast and Dariusz Wolski on lighting camera, excellent editing by Jeffrey Ford and solid production design by Steve Jordan, but it might resonate with audiences, largely drawn in by DeNiro's name and then spellbound by Fanning's performance.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

JOHN POLSON INTERVIEW

HIDE AND SEEK (M)
(US)

CAST: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker

PRODUCER: Barry Josephson, John Rogers

DIRECTOR: John Polson

SCRIPT: Ari Schlossberg

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dariusz Wolski

EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford

MUSIC: John Ottman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven J. Jordan

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 10, 2005







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