Robert De Niro is best regarded for his portrayals of horrifying individuals in nonhorror flicks. So it’s more than a little disappointing to discover that the Scorsese vet who portrayed Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta, and Max Cady is somewhat less than intense in Swimfan director John Polson’s latest stab at fright filmmaking. Hide and Seek, an R-rated movie with less bodily trauma than your average episode of CSI, concerns the tale of psychologist David Callaway (De Niro) and his preteen daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning), a chemistry-free duo who relocate to a sleepy Upstate New York town after Mrs. Callaway (Amy Irving) turns up dead in the bathtub. The New Year’s Day suicide (or is it?) renders Fanning’s Emily near-catatonic, yet the 10-year-old ball of haunted looks and darting eyes manages to exude more emotion than De Niro, whose performance makes his recent reprisal of Jack Byrnes in Meet the Fockers seem kinda edgy in retrospect. But stellar acting isn’t crucial in horror, a genre that is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the cinematic medium. Through lighting, editing, sound, and special effects, an inspired director with a good grim idea can craft a chilling tale while making acting more or less irrelevant. Hide and Seek’s grim idea, however, is hardly good, and certainly not its own: Screenwriter Ari Schlossberg, whose only other film credit is as co-writer of the 2004 romantic comedy Lucky 13, has created a patchwork of elements from other, better movies such as The Shining (Fanning is required to channel Shelley Duvall’s character throughout), Fatal Attraction (don’t get too attached to the cat), and even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (the kicker hinges on madness). The red-herring-filled narrative invokes the supernatural in the form of Charlie, Emily’s sinister imaginary (or is he?) friend. (“Whatcha drawing there?” asks the local sheriff as the girl produces—yes—a creepy Charlie-themed drawing. “You,” she replies. “Dying.”) Presumably, that’s all to protect the Big Twist, which is supposed to Change Everything but leaves DeNiro remarkably unaffected. And Polson’s workmanlike Hollywood direction (read: Just one jolt won’t do) does little to compensate for his lead actor’s sleepwalk of a performance. In the case of Hide and Seek, acting is, unfortunately, more relevant than ever.—Brent Burton

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