At the beginning of Dream House, Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) is saying farewell to his co-workers. He has left his job as an editor at a publishing house so that he can spend more quality time with his family: His wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and his cute-as-a-button daughters, Dee Dee (Claire Geare) and Trish (Taylor Geare). They have uprooted themselves, bought a house in the suburbs of New England, and are preparing for an idyllic life. But those dreams are shattered, when they learn that the previous inhabitants – a woman and her two daughters – were murdered, shot to death, by the family patriarch, who has spent time in a mental institution. As if that weren’t bad enough, a mysterious visitor seems to be lurking outside and peering into their home. Who is this man? And what really happened in their Dream House?
Written by David Loucka, Dream House isn’t as horrible as everyone, including director Jim Sheridan, who wanted his name removed from it, wants you to believe. Not that it’s perfect cinema, by any stretch of the imagination, but I found myself entertained, despite its flaws. One reason I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have was that the studio bombarded us with trailers prior to the film’s release, and those trailers became more and more spoiler-filled. By the time I saw the last trailer, it had essentially recapped the entire 92-minute film. When your film is a drama/mystery/thriller, it kind of takes the fun, and point, out of watching it. Luckily, before seeing Dream House, I hadn’t seen Loucka’s previous effort, Borderline (2002), because from the sounds of it, its plot elements are surprisingly similar to the ones found in Dream House. His next screenplay, House at the End of the Street (2012), also feels like déjà vu: “A mother and daughter move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents.” What gives Loucka?
Another thing that dogged poor old Dream House was the fact that its release became overshadowed by celebrity “scandal.” It was on this set that Craig and Weisz hooked up, despite the fact that she was still married, and, I think, he was still involved with someone else. I know, shock and horror.
So despite its poor reviews, sad rating of 5.5 on IMDB, and so many other factors, why did I shell out $5 to see this in the cinema? (I go to films prior to noon. I’m cheap like that.) I happen to love haunted house films, and I tend to see them even if they have the chance to stink. But how could this one? The cast includes Craig, Weisz, Naomi Watts, playing Ann Patterson, the neighbor across the street; Jane Alexander, as Dr. Greeley; Elias Koteas, in a very small role; and Marton Csokas, as Jack, Ann’s very angry husband. Add to that the fact that it is directed by James Sheridan (In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot). See what I mean? You can’t go wrong, right? Well, sort of.
Here are the goods and the bads of Dream House:
My primary reason for seeing this film was for Craig, and sadly, he’s horrible in this. He’s scowling, glowering, or giving a performance that’s wooden and boring. When he’s playing James Bond, he also scowls a lot, and when he isn’t scowling he’s essentially expressionless. For Bond, that works. For this role, it doesn’t. My second reason for seeing it was for Watts, who is probably my favorite actress; this woman is luminous. She’s someone you can count on for putting aside her ego and just giving her everything to a film, no matter how small the part. Ann isn’t a large role, but she’s a pivotal one, and in Watts’ hands, she’s made memorable. Weisz is another actress who seems to be involved in the profession for the right reasons: She seems to do it for the love of the work; maybe even for the process. Watch Constantine (2005), and tell me that she isn’t one of the few standouts in that deeply flawed film. In Dream House, she’s acting circles around Craig. I also really like Csokas, but for some reason he’s typically cast as a one-dimensional villain. He is truly brilliant in Asylum (2005), so I wish, he could just find himself another challenging role. These snarling bad guys are getting old. So, in short, the acting is a mixed bag. The males don’t seem to be engaged in this process; the females are giving it all they have.
As for the story, it’s a psychological tale with a “shocking” or at least, for me, an unexpected ending. My mouth was ajar. There are some creepy moments created by the idea of a man lurking in the yard, who is ready to snatch those cute girls. And they are super cute. I always love it when a ghost story takes place in a huge house with a lot of hidden rooms, and the one in Dream House has a graffiti-covered basement complete with unsettling artifacts from the deceased family’s life, and in the girls’ room there is a hidden “club house” filled with dolls and a tea set. Shudder. These details boosted my appreciation for the film. Unnerve me. I like it.
For those who care, the reason that Sheridan didn’t want his name associated with this film was because the studio took the final cut away from him. Apparently, he had allowed the actors to engage in a fair amount of improvisation, and the studio wasn’t happy at how much their version deviated from the original script. When screened to audiences, Dream House faired badly, so the studio recut it. This news only makes me curious to see Sheridan’s version. Maybe some day, we will get a director’s cut, but don’t hold your breath. After all, it took 14 years for the director’s cut of Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic to make it to Blu-ray.
In short, I didn’t hate Dream House; I didn’t love it. However, it’s a hell of a lot more watchable than most of the crap that gets released through the After Dark, Fangoria and Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For film series. WAY better. If you decide to take a chance on Dream House just make sure that the less you know about it, the better. Avoid the trailers.
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