an incredible secret. As the story opens, Callaway’s wife Alison (Amy Irving) dies suddenly, traumatizing Emily. Father and daughter move to Upstate New York to distance Emily from the memories of her life in Manhattan with her mother. Soon thereafter, Emily develops a friendship with Charlie. At first, David sees Charlie as a positive way for Emily to express herself, but a series of terrifying acts lead him to imagine the unimaginable: Charlie may actually be real…and if so, he must be stopped.
“I wanted to write a really scary movie,” says first-time screenwriter Ari Schlossberg of his work on HIDE AND SEEK. “I grew up in New York City, and the woods always held an element of fear for me. So of course I set my story in a rural woodsy town.”
In keeping with his story’s suspenseful, eerie elements, Schlossberg often wrote sitting in the dark, at night, acting out all the roles himself. “The characters’ voices told me where the story was going,” he says. Over time, the story evolved, until the writer decided his screenplay was ready to send out.
Producer Barry Josephson was among the first to read Schlossberg’s work. “The script scared the hell out of me,” Josephson remembers. “I just couldn’t put it down.” Josephson was so impressed with that not only did he purchase the script and bring it to Twentieth Century Fox, he promised that Schlossberg would the only writer to work on future revisions – a rare occurrence in today’s Hollywood where scores of writers are often brought in to fine-tune or “polish” a screenplay.
Josephson notes that casting the legendary Robert De Niro is critical to the film. “De Niro leaves an indelible mark on audiences with every role he plays,” says Josephson. “He brings so much to HIDE AND SEEK in conveying David’s increasing anguish and fear over what’s happening to his daughter.”
Director John Polson, who joined the project after helming the hit Fox thriller Swimfan, notes that HIDE AND SEEK gave De Niro the opportunity to play a new kind of role for the actor. “We haven’t seen Bob play a father holding things together while his family’s falling apart. It’s a new kind of vulnerability for him to play, and it was exciting to watch him show us a different side.”
The screenplay’s suspense and thrills helped draw Polson to the project, but he most appreciated the story’s father-daughter relationship. “A father trying to save his daughter from something...or someone… neither one understands, makes for a really exciting dynamic,” says Polson, himself a noted actor.
“David’s desperate attempts to help his daughter and his attempts to reconnect with her are moving,” adds Polson. “We have to first hook the audience with their relationship, so we have an emotional stake in everything that happens to them later.”
The search for Emily, a complex and demanding part, led the filmmakers to Dakota Fanning. “I don’t think there’s a better actress at her age out there,” says Josephson. “She is gifted beyond her years.”
“Dakota blows my mind; there’s just no other way to put it,” Polson says. “Working with her is like working with an incredibly talented 35 year old.”
Fanning’s first reading of the script was a memorable experience. “I started reading it in my room, upstairs, but I got so scared I had to go downstairs, where my dad and sister were, to finish reading it,” she remembers.
To play the troubled youngster, the blond-haired Fanning donned a brown wig and applied under-eye makeup, which gave the young actress a haunted appearance. But the wig, as effective as it is, only serves to help the actress tap into something new for her. “This role is like nothing I’ve done before,” says Fanning. “First of all, I look a lot different. But that’s only the beginning. Emily is definitely scared and in some sort of trouble, but she keeps you guessing about who – or what – is really causing these scary things to happen.”
Fanning enjoyed a special chemistry with De Niro – as she did with Sean Penn in I Am Sam and with Denzel Washington in Man on Fire. “To work with Robert De Niro was like a dream come true,” says Fanning. “He’s such a nice person to be around, and I learned something from him everyday.”
When we meet Emily, she is a happy, normal 9 year old who enjoys a strong bond with her mother. Shortly after the latter’s death, Emily and her father move to a rented house in a sleepy, eerie Upstate New York town. Here we see Fanning’s Emily transform into a taciturn, secretive girl with a menacing friend named Charlie. “At first it seems a good thing that Emily has an imaginary friend,” says Fanning. Then it gets bad…and then it gets worse.”
To depict David and Emily’s worsening situation – and slowly, deliberately amp up the scares – Polson and his team use design, lighting, camera movement, sound and music. “We use these things, as well as the wonderful understated work from Bob and Dakota to create a quiet, ‘psychological’ creepiness for the first two-thirds of the film, to keep audiences on edge,” says Polson. “During our last act, the action and scares never stop.”
Early in the film, Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski, ASC uses light to create an optimistic feel. But the hope of a new life for David and Emily dissipates, and Wolski’s lighting brings us deeper into David’s nightmare. “Something is broken inside of Emily,” says Wolski, “and David is trying to fix it.” Similarly, Wolski’s always-moving camera indicates the ever-shifting nature of David and Emily’s fears.
Production Designer Steven Jordan’s many contributions include overseeing the creation of Emily’s increasingly disturbing drawings. As the story opens, the artwork has an innocence and charm, but as Emily becomes increasingly tied to her imaginary friend, the drawings become more menacing. Jordan and Polson looked at hundreds of drawings, a process that Polson likens to casting a movie. “We even had ‘doubles’ for most of our ‘star’ drawings,” says the director.
Composer John Ottman’s (X2) lush orchestral score also adds to the chills. For the main title theme, which runs throughout the film, Ottman incorporated vocals from Dakota Fanning. “Dakota’s singing can be heard throughout the soundtrack,” says Ottman. “She added wonderful, eerie touches.”
The other starring cast members appreciated the film’s thrills and suspense, while taking special note of the characterizations. Amy Irving plays Alison, Emily’s mother, whose sudden death triggers frightening upheavals in David and Emily’s lives. “Alison is the fun parent and has an especially close relationship with her daughter,” says Irving. “So when Alison dies, it has a big impact on Emily.”
Another character central to the story is child psychologist Katherine (Famke Janssen), who assumes both a maternal and professional relationship with Emily. Katherine, who lives in New York City, communicates frequently with David about Emily, and visits them once she hears about the strange occurrences in their new home. Ultimately, Katherine puts her own life in danger to help the young girl.
“Katherine is a skilled psychologist who is dedicated to helping Emily and David,” says Janssen. “Katherine knows that the simple game that Emily is playing, and her so-called imaginary friend Charlie, represent much more than they seem. But the words ‘Hide and Seek’ resonate for all the characters, not just Emily, reflecting who they are and what they’re going through.”
A new woman in David’s life is Elizabeth, who is recently divorced and looking for a new direction for her life. Elizabeth welcomes David and Emily to their new home, and she and David become close friends. When the friendship takes a romantic turn, Elizabeth finds herself targeted by someone…or something. “But is it Charlie, Emily, or someone we’re not yet aware of?” asks Elisabeth Shue, who portrays Elizabeth. “That’s one of the film’s key mysteries.”
Sheriff Hafferty, played by Dylan Baker, also becomes enveloped in the increasingly terrifying events that transpire inside the Callaway home. “The home and country setting are beautiful but at times desolate,” says Baker. “It’s a lovely little town that’s just a little eerie. There’s something about being isolated in ‘paradise’ that’s more than a little creepy.”
Creepy, indeed. John Polson hopes that audiences enjoy HIDE AND SEEK’s creepiness, suspense and thrills, but he would also like to see them take away a little more. “We tried to make a thriller that doesn’t talk down to the audience,” he says. “I want people to have lots of fun with the movie, but also know that they’ve experienced a moving, complex relationship between a father and daughter.”
And they’ve met a creepy new friend named Charlie.
Twentieth Century Fox presents a Josephson Entertainment production, starring Robert De Niro, in HIDE AND SEEK, also starring Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving and Dylan Baker. The film is directed by John Polson, written by Ari Schlossberg, and produced by Barry Josephson. The Executive Producer is Joe Caracciolo, Jr., the Director of Photography is Dariusz Wolski, ASC, and the Production Designer is Steven Jordan. The Film Editor is Jeffrey Ford, and music is by John Ottman.