Dream House

More of a nightmare...

Dream House

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Directed by Jim Sheridan. Starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Elias Koteas, Marton Csokas, Taylor Geare, Claire Geare, Rachel G. Fox, Jane Alexander, Brian Murray, Bernadette Quigley, Sarah Gadon, Gregory Smith. Written by David Loucka.

It’s easy (and very possibly true) to blame the final result of Dream House, which is pretty much a disaster, on studio interference. There are all the signs here of a film taken away from its creators, including interesting ideas forced into a cookie-cutter formula, inconsistent performances, and choppy, abrupt editing that seems to open up retrospective plot holes.

And the studio (realizing what they had on their hands) did their best to compound matters, releasing a trailer that actually gives away the film’s big twist and then hiding the final product from stateside critics, all but ensuring a quick demise at the box office.

This shouldn’t be the case, you would think, in a movie directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) and starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts. But no: this is a mess. And I’m not so sure the studio (Morgan Creek) is entirely responsible – I fail to see how any of this might have been formed into a coherent feature.

Dream House opens with Will Atenton (Craig) leaving his prominent editorial job in the city to spend more time with his wife (Weisz) and young daughters back in their new suburban home. And get some work done on his novel. Across the street lives neighbor Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), who seems to be going through issues with ex-husband (Marton Csokasc) whenever the plot deems them relevant.

Strange things start to happen at home: the kids notice an ominous figure standing outside the window. Will hears strange noises at night. Down in the cellar, he finds a group of Goth teens holding some kind of candlelit ceremony. Uh-oh. Will soon discovers the house was the scene of a grisly slaying five years ago. And that the suspect has recently been released from a mental institution.

At this point, the film is faintly interesting; unfortunately, it has also telegraphed all its punches. We’ve seen far too many of these films to know that something is up, and yes, we know exactly where this thing is going. The movie does one thing right: reveal itself halfway through, so we don’t have to slog through the entire film to get to the expected twist.

But just about everything else here is wrong. The biggest culprit is a complete lack of any kind of sense. The main characters, the villains, the authorities, they all act in ways that don’t make sense initially, and then twists are revealed, and they make even less sense. I don’t want to give too much away, but why was the delusional, clearly in-need-of-help mental patient released? What in the world was the murderer’s motive? And why is he back at the scene of the crime?

It’s not just that these questions (and many, many more) are unanswered; it’s that I don’t think they could be answered to any degree of satisfaction. From My Left Foot to In America, director Sheridan had an impressive string of successes, a giant tumble with Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and a modest rebound in Brothers. Dream House, unfortunately, is another large misstep.

From the final product, I fail to see anything in David Louka’s script that would have attracted Sheridan to the material. Or the talented cast. Watts and Weisz are utterly wasted here, and Craig, despite a more fleshed-out role, is done no favors, either. A mystery man, played by Elias Koteas, is also misused.

Billed as a horror film, maybe a ghost story, Dream House is neither; without scares or atmosphere (the Caleb Deschanel cinematography can only take it so far), it’s a depressingly conventional thriller. And not a good one. More The Number 23 than Shutter Island, and despite the budget and talent involved, more direct-to-DVD than anything else.

Warning: below trailer pretty much spoils the entire movie.

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