Directed by John Polson, starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo and Robert John Burke.

'Hide and Seek' is not the sort of film that will instantly make your hair stand on end, but rather the sort that slowly creeps up on you, making you feel more and more disturbed by its revelations as it unfolds. Having made the leap from acting to directing in recent years, Australian director John Polson commends himself at the helm of this intriguing venture.

Emily Callaway (Fanning) has turned from a smiling, carefree child into a withdrawn, sullen and uncommunicative one, seemingly overnight. Shocked to the core by the sight of her father cradling her mother's lifeless body when she is awoken from her sleep one night, Emily cannot come to terms with what life has thrown at her at such a young age. After tucking her into bed only hours beforehand, the young child is now faced with the sight of her mother lying in a pool of blood, and the knowledge that she has taken her own life.

Even her psychologist father David (De Niro) is at a loss as to how to get through to Emily. Prone to wandering off, dressing in her dead mother's clothes and spending long periods alone, Emily cannot seem to find her place in the cruel world. When David's colleague Katherine (Janssen) suggests that perhaps a fresh start is needed, it seems like the best plan. But moving to a remote area in the country only seems to exacerbate Emily's condition. She becomes more withdrawn, begins behaving strangely towards visitors and her room suddenly becomes adorned with terrifying black crayon sketches.

As the weeks pass in their new home, Emily appears to be becoming more and more disturbed. Strange things begin happening wherever she goes, things that she can only attribute to her imaginary friend Charlie, who plays 'hide and seek' with her. And while her father gives her a long rein to start with, the pattern of events that follow Emily become too disturbing to ignore. At first it's messages on the wall, then cruel sadistic rituals involving drowning the cat and gorging the eyes out of dolls. But when people start turning up dead, her father begins to wonder if Charlie really is just a figment of her imagination. Everybody becomes a suspect.

Filled with twists and rolling along at a frenzied pace, 'Hide and Seek' boasts a script that is both clever and thought-provoking. Dakota Fanning shines as a star in the making, in her magnetic and convincing portrayal of a little girl torn apart by tragedy. De Niro too is more than commendable in his role as her father, faultless in the fact that he is completely upstaged by his young accomplice.

If you don't manage to unravel the clues along the way, the final twist is well worth the wait. But even if you do, it's not likely to spoil your enjoyment of some fine acting and a very powerful script.

Linda McGee