If you can make it past the first 10 minutes or so of Hide and Seek without busting up laughing, chances are that you've never seen a horror movie before in your life. This hack job of a "thriller" may steal from the best, but it does it so badly and obviously that it has to depend upon gratuitous shock cuts and soundtrack stings to elicit any kind of reflex-action fright from the viewer. Even then, we're momentarily shocked only because of a sudden loud noise, not because we could give a damn if any of these characters gets thrown through a window.
We begin with some really silly character shorthand, as Alison Callaway (Amy Irving) -- mother to a little girl named Emily (Dakota Fanning), wife to a psychiatrist named David (Robert De Niro) -- washes down some pills with a glass of wine, tells her hubby that "some things are beyond therapy," then takes a fatal warm bath with her wrists slashed. David is devastated; Emily starts developing psychotic stares. Next thing you know, the opening credits are rolling, ripping off both Rosemary's Baby (overhead view of New York as a girl's voice sings "La la la la, la la la") and The Shining (overhead view of car driving on narrow road into mountainous country).
To make things even better, Emily has a collection of scary antique dolls, has just been given a music box that plays "Hush Little Baby," and of course owns a cat -- all the better to jump out screeching at some future inopportune moment. The country house they move to happens to be up in the woods near a dark cave; the real estate agent (David Chandler) has an affected scary voice for no apparent reason; and the sheriff (Dylan Baker) likes to show up at unexpected hours.
Hide and Seek
Also, in case the title didn't already make it clear, Emily's favorite pastime (besides staring psychotically) is playing hide and seek, which she has no compunction about doing in unfamiliar and dangerous places.
Haunted by bad dreams and prone to waking up every night at the exact same hour as the night when he discovered his wife's body, David is none too surprised at how quiet and Christina Ricci-like Emily has become. (Props to the ubiquitous Fanning, who has never played goth before but does so here with maximum over-the-top intensity.) And when she mentions that she's made a new friend named Charlie, David figures she's just acting out and creating an alternate imaginary personality to express her anger toward him. Never mind that all evidence points to the fact that Charlie is in fact a real person who's sneaking around when David's away.
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Which brings us to the central problem of the story: If David, or anyone else, would simply ask the right questions, and Emily were ever to actually reveal anything vital about the identity of Charlie, the movie would be over. Instead, they simply don't communicate with each other, and evidence begins to build up that Charlie's getting more and more pissed off. The only tension in the story whatsoever is the question of who Charlie is; knowing that that will be revealed only toward the movie's end, we sit and we wait. And laugh. It's hard not to, every time some new character talks about how adorable Emily is, and she throws back the Zombie Stare of Doom.
Even more amusing, though, is the silly publicity stunt Fox is using to promote the movie. A recent press release announced that "For the first time in its illustrious 70-year history, Twentieth Century Fox will be shipping prints of a motion picture to theaters across the nation without the picture's final reel. The unprecedented move is part of a major effort to protect the payoff of the studio's terrifying suspense-thriller Hide and Seek. . . . In addition to shipping the reel separately, security guards will hand-deliver the reel to all playdate theaters across the U.S."
It's doubtful that this is for real -- certainly the part about the movie being terrifying is a bald-faced lie -- but if it is, what a waste of energy. No critic need bother spoiling the ending for you, because if you've ever seen a scary movie before, there really isn't anything to spoil. Besides, you'll be too busy laughing.
Director John Polson, who has a history of ripping off better movies in the Fatal Attraction knockoff Swimfan, says in the press kit that "We haven't seen Bob playing a father holding things together while his family's falling apart." Really? Just off the top of my head, there's Shark Tale and City by the Sea, both of which had De Niro as a conflicted father dealing with a problem child. There are probably others. It would be nice to say that we haven't seen Bob play a role that sucks this much before, but unfortunately his recent filmography belies that notion. Here's hoping he at least puts his paychecks to good use.