Dream House (2011)
“Once upon a time, there were two little girls who lived in a house.”
Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts
Synopsis: Soon after moving into their seemingly idyllic new home, a family learns of a brutal crime committed against former residents of the dwelling.
WARNING – This review contains SPOILERS
Jim Sheridan’s Dream House will forever be remembered as the movie that was killed by its tell-it-all trailer, which essentially gave away the movie’s entire plot in two disastrous minutes. Sheridan had already bailed by then, driven off the project by those pesky creative differences, but the stupidity of the studio’s publicity department resulted in co-stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz joining him in refusing to promote the movie. It’s probably no consolation to the chumps at Morgan Creek Productions, but most astute viewers would have at least some notion that all is not as it seems in the Dream House long before that big – and fatally premature – reveal.
Craig plays Will Atenton, a successful editor who packs it all in to write the great American novel in his new dream home. Awaiting his permanent return from the office is his loving wife Libby (Weisz) and button-cute kids Trish and Dee Dee (real-life sisters Taylor and Claire Geare). Life looks like a Christmas card for the Atenton family – until, that is, the kids spot a mysterious shadowy stranger lurking in the darkness of the garden, and Will discovers that their dream home was the scene of a bloody slaughter five years before. When he then learns that the killer – the previous owner, who murdered his wife and kids – has been released into a halfway house, Will decides to do some investigating.
Perhaps the clearest indication that something’s not right with Dream House is the way that it struggles to decide just what kind of story it’s trying to tell. To begin with it looks like it’s going to follow the well-trodden haunted house path, before taking a brief diversion into family-in-peril territory. Dropping that ball almost as soon as it has picked it up, the story swiftly passes through psychological thriller country on its way to the land of mystery, before finally coming to rest in plain old thriller park. It’s quite a bumpy journey, some of it’s travelled in darkness, but most of the time it’s well sign-posted. Anyway, enough of the travelling metaphors – they’re no more appropriate than Craig’s mid-movie change of hairstyle. The point I’m trying to make is that, despite a fairly unique story idea, the plot often doesn’t seem to know where it’s going and holds only limited surprises for seasoned filmgoers.
The big reveal arrives approximately halfway through the movie, and anyone who hasn’t already figured out that something isn’t right about Craig’s character – I had him pegged as the ’bad guy’ around the half-way mark, I just hadn’t figured out how writer David Souk was going to explain it – will probably realise where things are going within a few moments of the scene beginning. Needless to say, it has significantly more impact if you haven’t seen the trailer, but it’s more of a ’you’ve got to be kidding’ than an ’oh my God’ moment, and raises a whole raft of questions that are never satisfactorily answered. The next problem is how the movie then fills the rest of its running time once the big thunderbolt has struck. Poorly is the answer – with the story grinding to a halt while Will gets his (damaged) head around the revelation before eventually providing the audience with a villain who’s as obvious as the culprit in a Scooby Doo cartoon.
Performance-wise, both Craig and Weisz do well. Most men would probably weep a little were they to discover they weren’t, as they had originally believed, really going home to Rachel’s welcoming arms each night, and Craig – who began a relationship with her while shooting the movie – emotes well in his big scenes. The part also calls for him to be on-screen for 95per cent of the running time – a prospect that few stars would be able to resist, even when the movie’s story is so visibly shaky. Naomi Watts also appears as a helpful neighbour, but it’s difficult to see why she took the part – it has to rate as one of the most pointless roles accepted by an A-list leading lady in a long time.