Written by: David Loucka
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Everybody who lives in this house gets killed."
Dream House is a film that will make you question the wisdom of the Hollywood marketing machine; I mean, at this point, the only thing thatís worse than another fractured psyche/split personality movie is one where that twist is given away in the trailer. However, thatís exactly what happened here, and weíre simply left with yet another one of these rote psychological thrillers that isnít so thrilling after all.
As you probably know from that trailer, Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) and his wife (Rachel Weisz) move into a dreamy new home along with their two young daughters. Heís just quit his job as an editor to concentrate on his own writing; however, he soon begins to discover that his new home houses a deadly secret. After he catches a bunch of teenagers performing some sort of ritual in the basement, he uncovers that a previous tenant went all Amityville on his family. As he digs deeper, heís met with an even bigger shock: heís the guy, and heís recently just been released from an insane asylum, which means heís just been imagining his perfect existence.
You may at least take solace that this revelation isnít the filmís trump card; it actually comes about half an hour in, and the flick feels like it has absolutely nowhere to go from that point. Admittedly, this could have been a clever spin on the insane protagonist trend, as the film then turn towards figuring out if Atenton is insane after all (though if you saw the trailer, it gives the answer to this away too). Any interest is diluted by the filmís laborious stumbling to the finish line, which is marked by clichť dialogue, overwrought sentimentality, and some downright silly plot mechanizations. As it turns out, the event that set everything in motion is an unbelievable blunder (donít worry, Iím not going to spoil one of the few things that trailer bothered to leave out) on the part of one of the characters. What started as a spooky haunted house/psychological drama devolves into a tedious murder plot thatís clumsily revealed by a series of flashbacks.
And this is not to speak of some of the other shoddily-scripted elements; for example, weíre told that our main character is freed from his sanitarium simply because thereís no evidence to hold him there (nevermind the fact that he is clearly insane--I canít imagine any responsible doctor releasing a patient who claims to see ghosts and who is prone to violent outbursts). This is a film thatís produced by Ehren Kruger that feels like it was written by him, as itís so pandering, obvious, and lazily done that one wonders how it got greenlit (oh, thatís right--one of the guys signing off was Ehren Kruger!). Climaxing amidst roaring flames and gunshots as the ghost of Rachel Weisz looks on, Dream House is ultimately just plain silly; even worse, it doesnít know itís silly.
All of this unfortunately comes at the expense of a fine cast; in fact, I doubt youíll find a finer set of actors populating a film of this type. Craig and Weisz have good chemistry (which should come as no surprise as the two recently got married), and Watts is fine as the neighbor across the street who holds a secret or two. It can even boast the ever reliable Elias Koteas (which is something else I donít think the trailer revealed but perhaps should have). If the film earns any of its emotional resonance, itís due to these actors, who could honestly sleepwalk through stuff like this (which they may well be doing) and still make it somewhat compelling. On a basic level, there is something heartbreaking about a man forced to reconcile with the death of his entire family, regardless of whether it was by his own and or not. Craig always has a natural sort of sullenness about him that works well to carry out those tragic implications; despite the mess he finds himself in, I did at least want the best for him.
Director Jim Sheriden is another talented component who becomes a bit of a casualty. He does some things very well, particularly from a visual perspective; his ability to capture the Rockwellian perfection of Atentonís fantasies is especially keen. That itís so perfect is almost eerily unsettling, though we canít help but know something is wrong if weíve seen the trailer. He captures a few other interesting visuals, as there are almost certainly some nods to The Shining tossed in, plus the whole thing is slick (almost soullessly so). One might wonder if the filmís few shocks would have been more effective had they not been telegraphed, but to do that ignores that several films have retained their potency over the years despite our familiarity. So, no, I think Dream House is just a plain dull film whose biggest shock is the egregious waste of talent in front of and behind the camera. Perhaps not a completely dilapidated shack, but one you definitely donít want to get stuck in more than once. Rent it!
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