Recently, self-proclaimed D-lister Kathy Griffin got herself into trouble during E!’s pre-Golden Globes coverage by suggesting that 10-year-old Dakota Fanning was headed to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. As is often the case, various publicists and media pinheads took an ill-considered, improvised attempt at humor and blew it up into an supposedly scandalous event out of all proportion to Griffin’s stupid gaffe. The tempest in a teapot came back to me while watching Hide and Seek, as I realized that this little girl has acting chops that the scandal-prone former child stars just a few years her senior should envy.
In Hide and Seek, Fanning plays Emily, the daughter of psychologist David Callaway (Robert De Niro) and his wife Alison (Amy Irving), who dies before the opening titles roll. After he finds his wife with her wrists slit in a bathtub full of blood (the film’s most disturbing image), David decides it’s best if he and Emily get away from their traumatic memories. He relocates them from a swank Manhattan apartment to the upstate resort town of Woodland, where he buys a house that’s far too large for a single parent and his child, obviously selected just because huge, 19th-Century style houses are scarier than two-bedroom condos. David tries to instill a sense of normalcy, playing the games Alison used to play with Emily, but to no avail. His perky little girl has become distant, resentful, sardonic, and strangely aloof. She won’t crack a smile no matter how hard he tries, and attempts to get her to interact with other children fail miserably. Her only interest is in her new friend Charlie, who may or may not be imaginary. David, however, rebounds admirably when he meets a beautiful younger woman (Elisabeth Shue). Emily isn’t fond of the interloper, though, and neither, she warns, is Charlie.
Through most of the film, Fanning is made up to resemble Wednesday Addams, with her blond hair died a burnt sienna and heavy brown smudges around her eyes. The sense of eeriness doesn’t end with her makeup, though; Fanning plays Emily as a creepy, vaguely menacing little girl with a lot of grown-up knowledge and mannerisms. In a scene with a friendly neighbor man, she even throws in a truly unsettling bit of junior Lolita coquetry. De Niro is dependable, as always, but not particularly inventive. His David has the psychologist’s habit of reticence and the New Yorker’s instinctual suspicion of friendly country neighbors, but he offers little evidence of what drew him to the project, other than a large paycheck.
Hide and Seek was written by Ari Schlossberg, whose only previous credit is the obscure Lucky 13, and directed by John Polson, a little-known actor from Australia whose most prominent directing credit is the embarrassing Swimfan. It’s clear these guys have seen a few horror movies, as they borrow ideas and images from Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Dressed to Kill, and Fatal Attraction, among others. Despite the obvious borrowings, the filmmakers manage to create a mounting sense of menace and suspense through the first 70 minutes or so, until they spring the obligatory twist, the same twist that I complained had become tiresome and annoying when I last saw it a few months ago. After the “surprise,” you feel so frustrated that you’ve been subjected to it again that you don’t care in the least what happens next; you’re too busy counting the earlier scenes that no longer make sense. And possibly cursing the name of M. Night Shyamalan for helping to spread the notion that every horror film had to have one of these hokey damned endings.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Hide and Seek / Jeremy Fox
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()