A classic underachiever.
Maybe Robert De Niro's doctor in Godsend (2004) went to the same medical school of horrors as his Dr. David Callaway in Hide and Seek, this year's De Niro toss away film, from which he deposits his considerable paycheck along with cash from Meet the Fockers. Why he doesn't concentrate his fortune and connections (as Clint Eastwood does) to craft an artful small film that would allow his acting gifts is the only mystery for me from his prolific but arguably spotty career.
Young Emily Callaway (Dakota Fanning) has lost her mother (Amy Irving) to suicide. Psychologist dad moves her to an older, rambling house in the woods in upstate New York to start a new life. Not new are the abundant cliches of the horror film: the suspicious neighbors, whom director John Polson makes as creepy as possible; the questionable sheriff; the doors leading to scares; the mutilated dolls; Emily's imaginary friend, Charlie, who appears to be causing numberless offenses in the house; and knives placed as objects of intrinsic interest; and a vulnerable girl friend, Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue). I stopped counting, for the film is one extended clich? after another.
The interest for serious filmgoers might be the depiction of the psychological state after a loss to suicide. Whatever the term might be such as "post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome," the film does a credible job showing how difficult it is for Emily to lead a normal life after the loss of her mother (and for her father as well). While there are echoes of Stephen King (The Shining's "Here's Johnny" comes to mind) and Hitchcock (think shower scene), there is no comparison in quality with those classics. The audience at the preview enjoyed some of the stock shock moments behind the many closed doors. Hide and Seek will titillate horror fans but disappoint discerning film buffs, who look for some believable edge and innovation.
Milton in Paradise Lost expressed the descent from happiness to despair: "Farewell happy fields, Where joy forever dwells: hail, horrors!" Hide and Seek is not a classic horror film; it is a classic underachiever.