At first glance the names Craig, Weisz, Watts and Sheridan look great on a poster and together could help make a solid film. But even a roster like that can contribute to something terrible. In short Dream House is constantly plagued by components that seem beyond amateur; shoddy editing, thin story, poor dialog, etc. Then there’s other things that don’t help any. As a film fan my attention to detail tends to get the better of me and certain things just take me out of the story. Scenes that are supposedly shot in the Winter and yet there’s no breath coming out of anyone’s mouth. It’s minor mind you but it’s made all the worse when the fake snow actually looks like those perpetrating potato flakes. But even that can and does go away if the story is good. Since it isn’t, you’re left with those glaring amateur feeling bits contributing to what looks, walks and talks like a made for TV movie…with fake snow.
Dream House follows Daniel Craig’s character Will Atenton who has just resigned/accepted a severance package from his high profile editing job at a major publishing house. Leaving the big city behind for a quaint Connecticut town Will and his family are just getting settled in their new home where he hopes to start working on crafting his novel. Not long after, Will learns that this new home is the scene of a brutal murder 5 years earlier. If you think this is a retread of The Amityville Horror it isn’t.
In this story, Peter Ward, the previous owner of the Atenton home the husband, killed his family in the same home 5 years ago and was placed in a psychiatric ward. So all too unsettlingly the Atenton’s new rural home is anything but peaceful. Peeping Tom’s hiding in the woods and a scary altercation with an unknown assailant in a Buick are but a few things that rattle the Atenton family. Will seeks help but the police are very unhelpful. Eventually he thinks his family is being stalked by Peter (who has just been released to a nearby halfway house) and will do anything to protect his family.
Again, like our lead off sentence, it sounds like it could be great right? Well I’ll come right out and say, it isn’t. It’s slow, thin and clunky with little else of interest. The draw of the Dream House (something not handled well with its incredibly misleading advertising) was that it’s a movie within a movie; really it’s two stories but they just don’t gel very well. Is this a ghost story? No. Is this a scary movie? No. It is part thriller, so what’s with the poster above? It’s more aptly described as a psychological mystery movie but the drab story saps pretty much all things mysterious. That said, there is a twist in the story about midway through but unfortunately it’s sufficiently spoiled by the trailers so there’s not much to be surprised by here.
You’ll still get the occasional jump and another decent twist near the end but the most captivating part of Dream House is that first reveal…and that’s when the movie really could have gotten better but instead becomes something so lackluster and banal you wonder how these big stars got signed on in the first place. It’s not all bad and sure I can name a handful of scenes that contributed to the allure of the story but they weren’t supported by anything that made any sense or were well executed. Perhaps if Dream House was done right it could have been a miniseries (like one of those 3 or 6 part shows on BBC) allowing for more of a character study. Although now that I write that, if the movie couldn’t do it in 92 mins I dread the thought of dragging this out any further.
There are hints at an interesting story but instead we get Craig, Watts and Weisz looking like they don’t understand (or know) what to do with their material. Initially when strange events befall the family they are not only odd but also bizarre that no one acknowledges that there’s anything wrong. To give as much credit as I can this part of the story makes sense when we get the first reveal. Then it just gets muddy, uninspired and frankly boring; certainly not as advertised that’s for sure. So, instead of hoping something great will come and explain everything replete with a great character arc, you stop caring about the resolution and anxiously wait for the credits. OK, maybe that was too harsh but hey, it’s how I felt.
While I hate to get focused on things as trivial as fake snow but like a gnat buzzing round your ear, those small things just add to the big things that are plainly wrong with the movie and the story. It’s like how one knit pick can turn to two and so on until pretty soon there’s not a sweater left, only bits of fabric that might have made a captivating and interesting garment. In a way I’m rather disappointed by Jim Sheridan who, if you’ll recall, has used master thespian Daniel Day Lewis many times in truly great films. Although praise aside, Sheridan’s In America wasn’t very good either so it’s fair to say he’s not flawless. In the end, not that there was a lot expectation going into Dream House, it’s just a pity it turned out so unremarkable…and don’t even get me started on the Lifetime movie ending.