Still seeking the scares: 'Hide' fails to deliver

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I won't say which Stephen King novel and movie Hide and Seek rips off - that would give too much away.

And really, the scares are already rare enough in this ho-hum, little-girl-and-her-ghost thriller. No sense ruining any of them with a silly old movie review.

Robert De Niro plays a New York psychologist whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) turns into a Wednesday Addams clone when they find mommy's body in a tub of blood. He then decides they should move to the country.

There, Emily meets Charlie, an imaginary friend who likes to play her favorite game, hide and seek. He also seems to understand her troubles and is bent on blaming Daddy for them. Strange things start to happen, then bad things.

There's a stillness in the unsettling vibe of the town and the nervous neighbors. The shrink is nagged by his star shrink student (Famke Janssen) about making this rural move without allowing time for him and his daughter to mourn.

The story has the feel of a meditation on grief, but there's little more than the film's barren, overcast look to reinforce that. What it's mainly about is "gotchas" - gotchas that it never delivers.

Dakota, of Uptown Girls and The Cat in the Hat, is a hollow-eyed horror here, a Goth girl in the making. Underneath the dark hair, dark clothes and morbid worldview is a child trying to convince her father that the awful things that happen are traceable to Charlie. Dad, a man of science, simply can't buy that.

De Niro plays the doctor as a man with no hint of a bedside (or couchside) manner, a father who never hugs his grieving little girl. He and Dakota fail to click as father and daughter, giving the whole relationship, and the movie, a clinical, bloodless feel. Give us a reason to care.

Director John Polson, a reformed actor, seems more concerned with maintaining the slim mystery than in delivering real frights. Whatever Oscar-winner De Niro took a shining to in the script, what came out was cut-rate King.

And while there's no shame in paying homage to the master by borrowing from the works of his heyday 25 years ago, you really do him no honor when you hide what you should be seeking - the fear.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Hide and Seek

Starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Elisabeth Shue, Famke Janssen, Dylan Baker

Directed by John Polson

Released by 20th Century Fox

Time 101 minutes

Rated R (frightening sequences and violence)

SUN SCORE * 1/2 (1 AND 1/2 STARS)

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