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Dream House is a B-movie with A-list talent and a story that’s an F-minus, maybe worse. It’s not just that we’ve seen elements of this film a thousand times before. Rather, it’s the nonsensical composition of them that boggles my mind. Where’s the sense of dread, the slow-burn pacing that’s so integral in horror thrillers like this? And the editing is a disaster—the order of events is so unnecessarily convoluted that you’ll need a chart to keep track of all the subplots that are dropped and picked up again throughout the film.
One wonders what such talented individuals — Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, and director Jim Sherdian — are doing in such a poor film. Perhaps Sheridan was in need of a mainstream project to fund his typically exceptional independent efforts. Or maybe Craig and Weisz were so love struck as to not care (the two began seeing each other shortly after the film wrapped and are now betrothed). Either that or they’re all as nuts as the film’s main character.
Will Atenton (Craig) has just decided to leave his lucrative publishing job in New York in order to move to the Connecticut suburbs with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two daughters. Their new house isn’t exactly the picture of quiet country life like they were hoping for. Will soon learns the previous occupants of the house were shot by an intruder. The wife and kids were killed, while the husband survived and was labeled the shooter despite no hard evidence. This drove the husband, Peter Ward, insane, and he spent the next five years under supervision.
When Will visits the home where Peter is staying to ask some questions, he’s faced with an impossible scenario. The doctors are telling him that he is Peter Ward, that Will Atenton is a figment of his imagination and that his wife and kids are dead. Will laughs it off, but things keep getting stranger to the point where he needs to ask himself a hard truth: Is he Will, a happy family man, or Peter, a mental patient and possible murderer?
If this sounds a lot like Martin Scorsese’s 2010 film Shutter Island, it’s because the two are irritatingly similar. Sheridan and screenwriter David Loucka blatantly rip off a number of far more successful films, but none more so than Shutter Island. The “Is this reality or figment of a sick man’s imagination?” thing worked magnificently in Scorsese’s film, thanks to a much more complex situation, a deep backstory, a brilliantly creepy setting, and a fantastic performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Sheridan has none of those things: there’s little introductory material, the house and neighborhood are generic, and Daniel Craig is phoning it in.
Really, though, Dream House doesn’t hit rock-bottom until the final 15 minutes. For 75 minutes, it’s a poorly-realized, but relatively harmless thriller (that’s not scary at all — consider yourselves warned, horror fans). Then, it careens off a cliff as it attempts to introduce a villain and tells us that everything that happened — both over the course of the film and the five years before these events — happened because of chance. Really? That’s the best you’ve got?
I’ve already mentioned Craig’s less-than-stellar work, but it’s not as if he’s given a ton of great material to work with. Ditto Rachel Weisz, who brightens up the screen for a while, but becomes a drag on the proceedings as things get more complicated. Naomi Watts is also on hand in a shockingly thankless role as a kindly neighbor. The film, by and large, lacks energy, and though the screenplay is definitely the major source of that problem, the actors—all three usually so good—never do anything to rise above the script’s mediocrity.
There have been other films this year more inept, more cheesy, less tense, and less engaging, but Dream House is still all of these things, and it has far too much talent in its cast and crew to be this bad. Alas, it is, and though it’s only 90 minutes, it’s not a pleasant experience on any level.
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Written by David Loucka
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Martin Csokas