[This blog has spoilers in it regarding the movie.]
Last night, my wife and I watched a DVD of Hide and Seek, with Robert de Niro (playing a part that should have been taken by a younger man, really) and the dreadfully, but memorably named, Dakota Fanning. It was good until about three quarters of the way through, when suddenly the father (de Niro) changed personality; up till then he’d been trying to understand why his daughter, distraught after the suicide of her mother, apparently had invented/found an imaginary friend called Charlie who was doing some devastating things around the enormous house the two of them had hired for a country break (why do American films always show people living in houses that are umpteen times too big for them – and who does the cleaning?). But at this point in the story the father turned out, somewhat ridiculously, to be ‘Charlie’ – and the daughter knew it – and it was the father himself who was doing the horrible acts.
It required a complete re-think on the audience’s part, and almost succeeded, except that the tension in the story changed tack, and instead of the mystery element being prominent, it became one of those typical chase someone around the house with a large kitchen knife sort of movies. The trouble was, at that point, that the audience (us, anyway) were left trying to figure out things that had gone on before, and lost interest in what was actually happening.
Unlike The Sixth Sense, which wisely left its denouement until the last few minutes, this one skewered our perception of the characters too soon before the climax, and we no longer believed it. And it didn’t help that a somewhat minor character turned up at this point to save the day, for no obvious reason. Still, until that point, it had been quite an effective thriller, and between de Niro and Fanning, the tension was kept very high, since they were the mainstay of the movie for the most part – the other minor characters don’t get enough room to establish themselves as anything but slightly oddball.
One of my favourite reviewers, James Berardinelli, calls the movie 'reprehensible' and he's right, when you think about it. Fanning has to play a character who may well be violent and nasty, and when this is proved to be incorrect (although it doesn't tally with some of the earlier scenes) she then has to play the victim of an extremely psycho father. Her ability to express terror is well utilised, but another acting ability - to face her father with an almost adult sensibility, as though she wasn't his daughter but a kind of midgit lover - while extremely effective, comes across as rather sick.
Horror movies, in the nature of the genre, don't have to make complete sense (although M Night Shyamalan has proved this doesn't have to be the case), but this one loses the plot, and consequently Fanning is required to do a complete about-face (not quite in the sense of The Exorcist, mind you!). De Niro is better off, since he's plainly a little peculiar from the word go.
Incidentally, this movie has one of the worst 'deaths' I've seen in a long time. Elizabeth Shue falls backwards out of an upstairs window. In the next shot, seen from outside looking up to the same window, some helpful assistant director throws the world's most obvious dummy out the window, and it falls lamely to the ground. 'Nah, George, we don't need a stuntman/woman - just grab that dummy from the props department - the audience will never notice!'
Years ago, my son and his mate made a video film using our house as the 'set'. There was a shot in which one of them started to throw the other out of an upstairs window; in the next shot, similarly taken from outside looking up, we gasped as a body fell from the window. Of course it was only a dummy, but my son and his friend proved it was possible to fool the audience with a dummy and shock them at the same time. Robert Polson, the director of Hide and Seek, doesn't seem to know quite how to do it in spite of all his financial resources...!