Dream House

Movie Information

The Story: A couple's new home turns out to harbor a dark secret, which itself contains a secret of a different kind. The Lowdown: An almost complete misfire from director Jim Sheridan and a strong cast. It may in part be the result of studio tampering, but the film is simply tepid, slow, rather dull and unintentionally funny.
Score:

Genre: Thriller with Pretensions
Director: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Elias Koteas, Marton Csokas, Jane Alexander
Rated: PG-13

Oh, my, no, Jim Sheridan’s Dream House is not a good movie, though I do seriously question if it’s really as bad as is being claimed. But having said that, I also don’t see how it would be possible to champion the film. Maybe it’s because I’m hard-pressed to buy into the idea that this is worse than—just to pick two current random titles—Straw Dogs and I Don’t Know How She Does It. In fact, I know it’s not nearly as bad. Or maybe I’m just tired of reviewers and fans who think that the twist ending was invented by M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense  in 1999. (It wasn’t.) Whatever the case, I want to defend Dream House, but it’s just—well, kind of indefensible.

There’s all manner of hoo-ha over the film having been taken away from director Jim Sheridan, and Sheridan having virtually disowned what was released—as did stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. That may be perfectly true, but unless there was much reshooting with actors bearing an uncanny resemblance to the stars, they at least were around for some of the film’s most dubious moments. (In all fairness, some of it is obviously recut and overdubbed, though I’d have to see it again to be sure whether or not Weisz actually delivers the film’s most unintentionally funny line.) It’s also just hard to believe that the story was ever all that good.

And then there’s the infamous trailer that gives away a major plot point—a twist that occurs at roughly the halfway mark. That’s true, it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that the second half is somewhere between unbelievable and unbelievably silly. Plus, let’s face it, if a twist is all your movie has going for it, you’ve got bigger troubles than people knowing what the twist is. The main thing that knowing the twist does is allow the viewer to see if the first half plays fair. It does—so obviously that there’s an even chance you’d figure it out without the trailer. The awkwardness of the scenes between William and across-the-street neighbor Ann (a largely wasted Naomi Watts) is painful.

The film puts forth the scenario that editor William Atenton (Craig) quits his job at a publishing house to live with wife, Libby (Weisz), and their two children in their new Connecticut home where he plans to write “that book.” Ah, but you see, the house has a history—a history involving the murder of a woman and her two children, possibly committed by her husband. And pseudo-spooky stuff starts happening which in turn leads to William investigating matters only to find the shocking first twist. At that point, the film loses its minor horror movie cred to become a psychological thriller trying to make sense of the whole mess.

In all honesty, there are some good—or at least interesting—things in the second half, especially in the interactions of William and his family, but the film can’t leave well enough alone and insists on trying to tie the whole thing up with a solution that would achieve unbelievable levels of preposterosity if it weren’t for the fact that the film’s casting makes where it’s going to go obvious. Here’s the problem: The presence of name actors we’ve scarcely seen means they have to somehow figure into the solution. And, boy, do they ever. It may never make much sense, but they’re there. I can say no more, but I will note that you probably don’t want to see this. Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

4 thoughts on “Dream House

  1. Xanadon't

    Or maybe I’m just tired of reviewers and fans who think that the twist ending was invented by M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense in 1999. (It wasn’t.)

    Okay, I’ll bite. Does The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari get that credit, or does one have to go back even further?

    …where he plans to write “that book.” Ah, but you see, the house has a history—a history involving the murder of a woman and her two children, possibly committed by her husband.

    Um… like in The Shining? Please feel free to leave that one alone if it involves spoilers. Ha, unless of course the film’s SO bad that you’d be doing us all a favor. Which you kinda seem to make a case for here.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Okay, I’ll bite. Does The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari get that credit, or does one have to go back even further?

    That’s probably the origin, but, Clapton knows, it’s not like you have to go back to antiquity to find the approach, e.g. Angel Heart and Jacob’s Ladder.

    Um… like in The Shining?

    It wishes.

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