Review: “Dream House”

“Dream House” is marketed as a film in the horror-thriller genre that is completely devoid of any content that could conjure up a sense of fear or a single thrilling moment. It stands as a terribly flawed and unpleasant film, with no positive attributes to draw upon. It’s a film with a slow and mind-numbing first act, a semi-intriguing and yet ultimately tedious second act and a third act that defies reason or any semblance of an intelligent narrative structure. “Dream House” never works on any level as there are far too many deficiencies to overcome.

Daniel Craig stars as Will Atenton, a publisher working in New York City who leaves his job to be with his wife and two daughters in their newly purchased Connecticut home. Will hopes to write a novel in his new suburban abode, but shortly after moving in, he discovers details that put him and his family in jeopardy. Five years prior to his arrival, a mother and her two daughters were murdered in the house and now Will fears his family might be the next victims.

There is some obligatory mystery surrounding the murders and audiences are manipulated to question their relevance. How the murders occurred (if they occurred at all) and who may have perpetrated them are some of the lingering mysteries meant to sustain the audience’s interest throughout the film. They metaphorically dangle in front of the screen like a day old pastry; getting less and less appealing with every passing minute.

Further specifics pertaining to the plot are not worth going into in great detail. The reasoning for this has more to do with the film’s dull and insipid nature rather than a fear of spoiling details for potential filmgoers. Suffice to say, most audiences who know this genre well will pick up on the obvious plot devices that hint towards alleged twists that present themselves later in the film.

“Dream House” has a distinctly dated feel to it, in that it plays like a film that would have been cranked out a decade ago. In the early 2000’s, studios were desperately trying to imitate the success of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999). Many films of the horror-thriller genre sought to showcase some sort of gimmick revelation or twist to their plots. While the device worked reasonably well for some films such as “The Others” (2001), many of them relied too heavily on their “twists” or “reveals” and failed to incorporate an actual story. The trend eventually became tired and worn to audiences who were subjected to these films as the twists became less of a surprise and more of an expectation. “Dream House” is not only late to the party, but is one of the most derivative and unwelcomed guests to attend.

Even if “Dream House” succeeded in telling a cohesive story, Daniel Craig would still be a terrible casting choice for the part of Will. Craig is playing a loving and devoted husband and father, and yet the man doesn’t exude a grain of warmth. Craig’s chiseled face and look of coldness serves him well in action thrillers, but doesn’t make for a very convincing family man. The supporting cast includes Rachel Weisz who plays Will’s wife, Libby and Naomi Watts plays a neighbour who may have known the home’s former occupants. Both actresses are given little to do in what are inevitably forgettable performances.

The numerous problems with relating to or even remotely caring about the character of Will do not fall on Craig’s sterile performance alone. The screenplay doesn’t give the character any sort of development or arc. A clear backstory is never given to the character of Will or his family. There are no clues given as to where the family lived prior to living in the house and there are no tender moments that could have potentially fleshed out the relationship between the husband and wife. All we know about Will is the current predicament he finds himself in, and the film just isn’t interesting enough to sustain that kind of storytelling. As a result, there is no real concern for what happens to him as audiences have little reason to be invested.

One fascinating tidbit about the production of “Dream House” is the fact that Daniel Craig and his on-screen wife, Rachel Weisz fell in love during filming. Sparks between the two flew and the real life couple were soon married after production had wrapped. In a true testament to the complete lack of character development, not one second of that real life chemistry is captured at any point in this film.

“Dream House” was directed by Jim Sheridan, the Irish-born, six-time Academy Award nominee whose directorial debut was 1989’s “My Left Foot”. It’s astonishing to conceive that the same man who directed “My Left Foot” is also responsible for this muddled mess. Morgan Creek is the studio behind “Dream House” and according to reports, Sheridan fought with the studio heads during production over matters involving the script and the overall production of the film. On the heels of a poorly received test screening, scenes were re-shot, and Sheridan eventually left the film to be finished by Morgan Creek.

Morgan Creek cut the final film and were also responsible for the film’s awful trailer which greeted audiences by essentially showcasing every crucial plot point. The trailer for “Dream House” is a perfect example of a flawed film showing too much of its hand in advance. The trailer was poorly received by audiences who claimed it gave away most of the film’s revealing elements. Neither the director, nor the film’s stars promoted the film in any way; Sheridan even attempted to have his name removed. Upon viewing the finished product, it’s easy to see why the actors and director sought to distance themselves.

“Dream House” is a film plagued by problems both on and off screen. Films of this genre often have elaborate set ups that become increasingly difficult to effectively pay off. “Dream House” is without a valid set up, so any chance of a satisfying payoff is lost early on. As dreadful as it is, the final act cannot be considered a disappointment since the film never establishes a high point. “Dream House” is a film that never rewards its audience; instead it insults them while robbing 92 minutes of their time.