Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DVD Review: Dream House

Dream House **
Directed by: Jim Sheridan.
Written by: David Loucka.
Starring: Daniel Craig (Will Atenton), Naomi Watts (Ann Patterson), Rachel Weisz (Libby), Elias Koteas (Boyce), Marton Csokas (Jack Patterson), Taylor Geare (Trish), Claire Geare (Dee Dee), Rachel G. Fox (Chloe Patterson), Jane Alexander (Dr. Greeley).

Dream House is a supernatural horror movie that develops pretty much exactly as you would expect it to. Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has made some excellent movies in his career, including My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, In America and most recently Brothers, the film is skillfully put together. The ensemble cast is made up of fine actors, including Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz and Elias Koteas, do what they can with the material they are given. The problem is the movies setup is so obvious, so we spend the first half of the movie waiting for the characters to catch up with us, and then when they finally catch up with us, the movie goes completely off the rails into ridiculousness.

Craig stars as Will Atenton, who has just quit his job as a book editor to work on his own novel. He comes home to his new house, to his beautiful wife Libby (Weisz) and their two wonderful daughters. The neighbour from across the street, Ann (Naomi Watts) watches on suspiciously, and when Will discovers a group of teenagers in his basement, holding some kind of weird séance, he finds out that a man named Peter Ward was suspected of killing his whole family in that house 5 years ago. But, for some reason, when Will tries to find out more information about the crime, everyone stonewalls him.

You can probably guess the truth from this very basic plot outline – and if you’ve seen the preview, than it gives away far more than I did, so you know even more than you should going into the movie. I can see a movie like this working – after it, the movies haunted house structure recalls both The Shining and Shutter Island in different ways. But Dream House tries to switch things up a few too many times. As the movie goes along it, and its main character, gets darker, creepier and more violent as more information comes out that makes us question what we think we know. And then, the movie tries to tack on an unconvincing ending, as it tries to ensure that the hero of the movie really is just that. It chickens out from becoming the dark horror movie that it really should.

The actors are pretty much given impossible roles to play, which means it’s no real surprise that none of them are all that convincing. Craig has to go through one change after another after another, meaning we never truly know what the hell is going through his mind. Weisz, who in seemingly half her roles is great, and half is terrible, is given nothing to work with her. Her character is written in a way where her secrets are all too obvious from the first moment we set eyes on her, and as a result, her performance strikes the wrong note from the beginning and never recovers. But Naomi Watts is given the worst role of all – because her character has no reason to behave the way she does, other than if she behaved like a normal person, than the movie would unveil its mysteries far too early in the proceedings. And why you even bother to a great, creepy actor like Elias Koteas and give him nothing to do is beyond me. The less said about Watts ex-husband Martin Csokas, the better.
Jim Sheridan is a director who works best when the films he makes means something to him – his trio of collaborations with Daniel Day-Lewis about his native Ireland were obviously important to him, as was the immigrant drama In America, written by his daughters. Even Brothers, although a remake, obviously meant something to him. Dream House is more akin to his 50 Cent film Get Rich or Die Trying, where he was just a director for hire. But as clichéd as Get Rich or Die Trying was, it was at least a simple story, well told. Dream House is a movie where the director and the cast doesn’t matter, because the screenplay is so redundant and ridiculous, that it never should have been made by anyone.

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