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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 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.

The DVD comes fully loaded with three-way commentary (director, editor, writer) and two sets of deleted or truncated scenes, alternative endings and a Making of. In the latter, 10 year old Dakota Fanning demonstrates her maturity as an actress with her off screen interview, and the rest of the cast go through the 'great to work with' routine.

But the totality of the extra material works well for the film's fans and delivers plenty of insights and details - not to mention arguments about the merits of the various endings - including some that are quite dark.

June 30, 2005

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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


EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford

MUSIC: John Ottman


RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 10, 2005


SPECIAL FEATURES: Four alternate versions (endings); audio commentary track by director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford, screenwriter Ari Schlossberg; deleted scenes with optional commentary; previs scenes with optional commentary; Making of;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 22, 2005

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