Dream House (2011)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Jim Sheridan, the soulful Irish director behind the weepie “In America” has now made a limp, stupid and stultifying psycho-thriller called “Dream House.” It’s bad to be sure, but it’s not as bad as when Mike Figgis tried to go mainstream and made “Cold Creek Manor.”
“Dream House” is a perfectly forgettable little flick that features good European and Aussie actors slumming it. The drama is never tense, the story never goes where you aren’t expecting, and, if you’ve managed to see any of the previews for the film, you already know the big second-act twist, so the only surprise has been ruined. This is a prime example of what Roger Ebert calls the cheese sample theory of movie previews. The cheese sample you eat in the grocery store is going to give you the exact same experience as eating the entire cheese wheel, only you’ll get more of it. Previews give you the whole movie on a toothpick. What a dumb way to market films.
Daniel Craig, completely unconvincing as a smiley family man, plays Will Atenton, a man recently moved to the suburbs with his doting wife (Rachael Weisz) and his two adorable girls. Their house is perfect and they giggle a lot. There are mysterious shadows lurking in the corners here and there, but it seems to do little to interrupt their idyll. The woman across the street (Naomi Watts) constantly peers out of her window with pensive, concerned expressions. Eventually, Will finds himself chasing scads of Gothy teenagers from his basement where they’ve been having séances. “Don’t you know what happened here?” they playfully ask. Is the house haunted?
Well, thanks to the preview, we know the house isn’t haunted, and that Will is actually mentally unbalanced, living there alone, hallucinating his wife and children. He has actually recently left this institution recently, and the bulk of the film we’ve witnessed up to this point has been a hallucination. He also learns that he was the one to have killed his wife and children. The entire town knows who he is, and the crime he committed. How this man was able to simply waltz out of an institution and move back into his old house to merrily hallucinate his old life is not explained. And why does Naomi Watts treat him so well?
And while this hallucination twist is pretty dumb in itself, the film eventually goes even further, and introduces another subplot involving an affair that Naomi Watts may have been having, and the sloppy hitman (Elias Koteas) hired to kill Will for reasons I will not divulge. Eventually, though, there is some doubt as to whether or not Will is the guilty party in his family’s murder, and that his madness may have just been the result of a bullet to the head (!). The big reveal at the end, however, is not an “ah-ha!” moment, as it is a bored and brief “ah.”
Oh yes, and while the film goes a long, long way to explain that Rachael Weisz and the girls are hallucinations, and certainly not ghosts, the film keeps them in frame, even when Will is unconscious. Then there’s an implication that they may be ghosts after all. It’s not very clear, and any amount of thought on the matter will cause steam to sing from your ears. You could, perhaps, cogitate that Will’s wife was indeed a ghost who was picking up on his sympathetic psychic vibrations, and perhaps theorize that she could lay somewhere in between hallucination and ghost…
But it wouldn’t be worth it.
Over the credits, one of the single most insufferable inspirational power ballads plays. I can’t, for the life of me, find the name of the singer or the song, but it’s certainly worth seeking out as a curiosity.