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John Polson
Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, Robert John Burke
Writing Credits:
Ari Schlossberg

Come out, come out, whatever you are.

Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning keep pulses pounding and hearts racing in this chilling horror hit about a troubled father and daughter tormented by someone – or something – named Charlie, a malevolent entity who may or may not be “imaginary” but is definitely the stuff nightmares are made of!

Box Office:
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$21.959 million on 3005 screens.
Domestic Gross
$51.097 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 7/5/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director John Polson, Screenwriter Art Schlossberg, and Editor Jeffrey Ford
• 14 Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Four Alternate Endings
• Previs Sequences
• “Making Of” Featurette


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Hide And Seek (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2005)

What the hell happened to Robert De Niro? Once - and maybe still - regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, he seems intent on Brandoing his legacy into oblivion with one crap flick after another. Admittedly, Marlon’s oddball later years and many bad choices didn’t make people forget his glory days, but that era sure didn’t help matters. De Niro hasn’t become an obese weirdo, but he certainly doesn’t pick very good vehicles in which to act.

De Niro ended 2004 on a miserable note with the atrocious Meet the Fockers, and he started 2005 with the feeble thriller Hide and Seek. At least Fockers raked in bags of cash. After a decent opening weekend, Seek quickly declined and ended up with a ho-hum $51 million.

Psychologist Dr. David Callaway (De Niro) lives with his wife Alison (Amy Irving) and young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Clearly the married couple aren’t on the best of terms, and matters get worse when Alice apparently kills herself in a bathtub. Emily sees her father try to revive her mother and reacts poorly.

To remove Emily from all the bad memories, David decides to move upstate from New York City, even though this means abandoning close friend Katherine (Famke Janssen), a babe who shows she has designs on David. In their new country home, he tries to revive some of her mom’s old fun and games, but a somber Emily doesn’t seem amused.

We get a hint that something happens to Emily when she explores the area and finds a muddy cave. More hints occur when she abandons her longtime favorite doll and talks of a new - apparently imaginary - friend named “Charlie”. Initially David seems happy to learn that Emily outgrew her doll, but the references to “Charlie” clearly concern him.

Those issues deepen when David finds that someone recreated Alice’s death scene and scrawled “You let her die” on the walls. David accuses Emily, but she blames Charlie. Emily’s dark side dominates when David tries to make her a new friend. She spends some time with young Amy (Molly Grant Kallins) but when Emily disfigures the girl’s favorite doll, this ends poorly. The rest of the film follows the Charlie issues and Emily’s state of mind as David tries to deal with these problems.

What a mess of a movie! I suppose it’s too much to ask of a modern horror film to do something genuinely different. After all, there are only so many ways to scare somebody, and once Scream cornered the market on self-aware terror, the genre was left with little more than rip-offs of that flick or self-parody.

Seek doesn’t quite fit either category, I suppose, but it fails to add anything to the genre. Part of the problem stems from the movie’s unsatisfying vagueness. For much of the movie, we’re supposed to question whether Charlie’s real or in Emily’s mind. Like the superior Boogeyman, this attempts to create tension and make us wonder what’s really happening.

Even though we strongly suspected something supernatural would eventually materialize, this worked in the surprisingly subtle Boogeyman. It doesn’t succeed here, unfortunately. Part of that stems from the movie’s incomplete feeling. It often appears that substantial pieces of the story go missing, as events just happen without much cause. The narrative flows poorly and doesn’t give us a good picture of the participants or their actions.

As with Boogeyman, the movie tries to keep us off-guard in regard to the nature of its villain. Here a number of suspects emerge. Of course, there’s the possibility Charlie’s some kind of monster, or he could be a figment of Emily’s imagination. In addition, he might be some local dude, and the film callously plays with the concept of child abuse. All of these act as cheap teasers for the extremely lame - and very tough to believe - twist that comes at the end.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the flick paints such bizarre images of its characters. The biggest problem stems from Fanning’s look. I guess they figured she needed to differ from her usual sunny blonde appearance, for here they do her up all in black. She makes for such a gloomy child that Wednesday Addams looks like Heidi by comparison.

All of this takes an ironic twist because people constantly say how adorable this walking corpse is. Perhaps that’s supposed to be funny, but it simply comes across as inane. Granted, Fanning plays the role as so absurdly sullen and somber that Emily often takes on an unintentionally funny tone. It makes no sense, as even when Emily’s supposed to be happy, she looks like she just stepped out of the grave.

I don’t blame Fanning for these issues. Actually, she provides the movie’s sole good performance, as she does her best with the limited scope of the material and manages to give Emily a little more personality than should have been the case. Unfortunately, the director saddles her with such a gloomy look that the character can’t help but come across as absurd. Hey, my Mom died when I was a kid and that really shook me up too, but I didn’t immediately look like I just joined Bauhaus.

For most of the movie, De Niro looks dazed, perhaps because he can’t believe he’s being out-acted by a 10-year-old. Much of the time, he seems miscast as the mild mannered psychologist, and he underplays the part to a silly degree. De Niro provides an oddly detached take on the role. He always feels like he’s someplace else and he doesn’t connect to the character or the story. I suppose some of this makes sense within the context of the movie’s twist, but I think that correlation was barely intentional. Usually De Niro simply displays lazy acting.

De Niro manages to dig into the role better at the end, largely because the story gives him something to do. Too bad that it can’t think of anything better than to rip off The Shining. I can’t say I liked that Kubrick vehicle, but it looks like a classic compared to this tepid cheesefest. A cheap thriller with nothing new to say, Hide and Seek fizzles.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Hide and Seek appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer looked decent but rarely better than that.

Sharpness usually appeared fine. Occasional wide shots came across as a little soft, but those examples didn’t occur frequently. In general the movie came across as accurate and distinct. While I noticed no concerns related to jagged edges or moiré effects, Seek suffered from some mild edge enhancement at times. As for print issues, the film featured some light grain, but otherwise it seemed clean.

A moody flick, Seek provided a limited palette. The movie certainly didn’t present many bright or vivid tones. That seemed fine with me, as the colors reflected the tone of the piece. For what we see, the hues came across as rich and distinctive, and I noticed no problems related to noise, bleeding, or other issues. Unfortunately, blacks tended to be a bit loose, and shadows were often a little too opaque. Perhaps the movie wanted to be overly dark, but I thought the shots were too tough to make out too much of the time. The film always stayed watchable, but I didn’t think the transfer merited a grade above a “B-“.

When we checked out the audio, we found both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. As so often is the case, I didn’t discern any substantial differences between them. The DTS mix might be a little more transparent, but it didn’t distinguish itself as distinctly stronger than the Dolby edition.

I expected a soundfield that emphasized creepiness and mood, and that’s what I found. The audio used the various channels to good effect, even though the mix rarely became terribly active. Spooky bits popped up all around the spectrum and made the tale more unsettling, just as it should. The various pieces seemed well placed in the soundfield and melded neatly to create a nicely immersive environment.

Audio quality appeared positive. Speech seemed natural and concise, and the lines presented no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was bright and vivid, and the score demonstrated good range and punch. Effects sounded clean and accurate, and they also featured very solid bass response. The low-end elements provided fine depth and never appeared loose or boomy. Ultimately, Seek seemed like a good soundtrack, but not one that made it to “A”-level.

As we move to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. Three topics dominate: story, editing and actors. Given the presence of the writer and the editor, the first two come as no surprise. Story plays an especially big part in the conversation, as we learn a lot about themes, characters, twists, abandoned notions and tightened concepts. Editing delves into some of the same topics, as we hear about cuts and altered material.

The areas related to acting display some of the commentary’s fizziest moments, as the participants relentlessly praise De Niro, Fanning and all the others. However, quite a lot of good data emerges as well, especially when the commentators discuss working with De Niro. A few other topics like locations and general trivia emerge along the way, and all of this adds up to a very strong commentary. I feel like the participants give us a deep look at what they wanted to do with the film. I don’t think they succeed, but the commentary makes me appreciate the film more.

Fans of cut footage will find a lot of material here. We can watch four different alternate endings. In a neat twist, the DVD’s menu allows you the option to see these cut back into the film. We also can inspect them on their own. Viewed one after another via the “Play All” command, they fill a total of eight minutes. The first is a sunnier take on the theatrical ending, while the other three offer variations on their own theme. All are darker turns, especially the third and fourth conclusions. I think either of these would be more satisfying than the existing finale.

The endings come with optional commentary from Polson, Ford and Schlossberg. As one might expect, they talk about issues connected to the story points depicted in the endings and let us know why they didn’t use them. The discussion seems frank and useful.

For more unused clips, we move to the Deleted Scenes domain. It presents a whopping 14 segments; all together, these run 19 minutes and eight seconds. Some of these elaborate on David’s attempts to make Emily happy, while others show more of the girl’s growing weirdness. We also see a bit more of the David/Elizabeth relationship as well as some red herrings. The Elizabeth bits are probably the best since they fill in some of the story’s gaps, but none of the cut scenes are terribly useful. Once again, we can view these with or without commentary from Polson, Ford and Schlossberg. They provide notes similar to those heard in the “Alternate Endings” area, so their remarks merit a listen.

Next comes The Making of Hide and Seek. This 10-minute and 19-second featurette features the standard mix of movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Polson, producer Barry Josephson, executive producer Joe Caracciolo Jr., production designer Steven Jordan, and actors Dakota Fanning, David Chandler, Amy Irving, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, and Dylan Baker. They discuss what attracted them to the project, the story and characters, casting and the actors’ performances, Polson’s influence on the set, visual elements, and the film’s appeal. Despite a few decent glimpses behind the scenes, most of the featurette sticks with the standard blandness. Jordan’s notes about the set are pretty good, and Fanning gives us fun notes about her insect co-star. Otherwise we hear lots of praise and little concrete information in this fluffy program.

Finally, we get three Previs Sequences. This area includes “Charlie Chases Emily” (43 seconds), “Katherine Confronts Charlie” (0:56) and “Final Moments Between David and Emily” (1:53). Polson chats as we watch these filmed storyboards. All include scenes not filmed, which makes them more interesting. Polson adds decent notes about the sequences and why he didn’t use them.

With a fairly high-profile cast, Hide and Seek boasts enough of a pedigree that it should have been something good. However, the flick barely achieves mediocrity, much less greatness, as it suffers from poor storytelling and too many cheap scares. The DVD offers decent picture along with very good audio and a pretty nice set of extras highlighted by a surprisingly involving audio commentary. I don’t like Seek enough to recommend it as a blind purchase or rental, but fans will likely enjoy this pretty positive DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.909 Stars Number of Votes: 11
6 3:
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