Everyone's had an imaginary friend at some point in their childhood, but this film takes the concept of what can happen when parents are out of the room to a whole new level.
You are thrown into the story headfirst when psychiatrist David Callaway (Robert De Niro) discovers his wife's dead body in their bathtub. In order to avoid any further trauma for his little daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning), he decides to pack up and move to a country house in rural New York.
Almost immediately, Emily tells her father that she's got herself a new "friend" named Charlie, and that's when everything starts to go wrong. Despite warnings from child psychiatrist Katherine (Famke Janssen) about Emily's erratic behaviour and Charlie's destructive streak, David struggles to hold onto the new life he envisioned for his daughter, while things go from bad to worse.
Fanning's portrayal of the conflicted nine-year-old is by far the most impressive thing about this film. She transforms from a normal kid to a psychotic time bomb and I was more scared of her than anyone else by far. With so many possible reasons for her bad behaviour and the questionability of Charlie's existence, her acting takes full advantage of an unique position of being both victim and potential villain.
De Niro's performance isn't bad, but not one that he'll be remembered for 20 years from now. This is not a role that demands a heavyweight and might have benefited from someone younger. Showing more emotion would have enabled the audience to empathise with his character's predicament and the potential love interest with Elizabeth Shue seems strained at best, an unnecessary subplot that never stimulates the imagination. Attempts at introducing peripheral characters does not work. Not enough time, or effort, is spent on them.
The part with the most potential to really wow an audience is unfortunately the biggest disappointment. The final twist comes across as amateurish and lazy, not to mention directly resembling a number of films recently available at your local video store. Without giving the end away, I found it diminished the impact of the story and made me question how a child of this age could so easily be manipulated one way, while being strong and stubborn in others.
All in all, despite some memorable scares and a great performance from Fanning, Hide And Seek is another in my long list of recent thriller/scary movies that doesn't quite do it.