A bit of weak tea horror squeezed from the leavings of far better movies, Hide and Seek wastes the talents of Robert De Niro and the preternaturally adult child star Dakota Fanning. The now ten-year-old, who's beginning to grow into her precocious intelligence, does some of her most effective acting here (ironically, she finally seems normal when playing a mentally traumatized child), but in service of a lousy script. Likewise, De Niro gives a basically faultless performance in an incredibly scripted role.
De Niro plays New York psychologist David Callaway, who—after the death of his wife (Amy Irving)—takes their daughter Emily (Fanning) on a Shining path to a country home (as in Kubrick's indelible opening, aerial photography records their slow car drive into the wilds). Of course, Hide and Seek is more of the caliber of Cold Creek Manor than The Shining, Psycho, The Pledge, or any of the other films which influenced screenwriter Ari Schlossberg and actor-turned-director John Polson (Swimfan); I could mention a few more movies Hide and Seek apes, but not without spoiling the ending. "Some things are beyond therapy, David," warns Emily's markedly beautiful child psychologist (Famke Janssen). Tell us about it.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Emily's development of a supposed "imaginary friend" named Charlie. Schlossberg is at least gracious enough to know that we know Charlie isn't imaginary (an imaginary friend can't wield a knife in a "thrill-packed" finale). Hide and Seek adjusts the "whodunnit" paradigm to a "whoizzit," stinking of red herring and populated with the creepiest men outside of a Britney Spears chat room (among them, Dylan Baker as a simpering small-town sheriff and Robert John Burke as a grieving father who lingers around Emily). Melissa Leo (21 Grams) plays Burke's wife, also unhinged following the death of their daughter, and Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue) kills time as David's love interest, younger and prettier than his late wife, natch.
Hide and Seek is trashy, but there's no fun to be had in its ugly child-endangerment psychoses. In the slow midsection, you'll have to settle for equivocal dialogue while waiting for the prolonged payoff. Emily: "Daddy, can you close the door?" David: "You don't want the light?" Emily: "I don't need it anymore." Accordingly, DP Dariusz Wolski (The Fan) uses the purposely wan lighting customary of all psychological thrillers. A popcorn movie more frustrating than entertaining (can someone explain why Dad would never ask, "What does Charlie look like?"), Hide and Seek pronounces its title as a howlingly bad one-liner adorning the film's "climactic" low point. The hidden-in-plain-sight "secret": another crappy movie.