Directed by Jim Sheridan
Written by David Loucka
Starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Marton Csokas, Claire Geare, Taylor Geare, Elias Koteas
Release Date: September 30, 2011
Jim Sheridan‘s Dream House is a distorting and turning journey of mind-bending proportions, taking elements of popular horror fiction and re-energizing them as 21st century psychological thriller fares. Featuring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, it takes some unexpected detours, complete with some commendable performances.
(A side note: Before I do continue though, let me preface the rest of this review with the fact that I did not see any trailers for Dream House before seeing the film. I’ve been told that Morgan Creek films blew it by including some significant plot revelations in the trailer, so I went into the film fresh – so if you’re interested in seeing this movie, avoid all the trailers!)
The film focuses on Will Atenton (Daniel Craig), who has stepped down from his editing position at a prestigious New York publishing firm to take a redundancy pay package and begin focusing on his aspirations as a novelist, as well as spending more time with his family. The Atenton family move from the city to a Connecticut suburb, into a new home that for Craig’s character is quite plainly the namesake of the movie: his dream house.
While the introduction to the story is a little slow and cumbersome, though necessary with the presentation of many characters (more on this later), the first half of Dream House evolves into what feels like an updated version of The Amityville Horror. Family finds dream home, family moves to dream home, horror ensues… right?
Well, not exactly.
The family does indeed move into their dream house, and there is much dark and menacing presentiment, but the paranormal elements of your classic Haunted House movie never emerge. While there are many scenes and sequences in the first third of the movie that make the audience think they’re heading in that direction, Sheridan and writer David Loucka not only deviate on a different heading, they roll the vehicle and make you wonder, “Whoa, what the hell just happened?”. Add to this a sprinkle of good-measured influence from writers like Stephen King, and you have some unsettling and perplexing moments.
Yes, the plot is disorienting at times – but this is completely by design. While the audience is looking in a hundred distinct places to get a feel for where the movie is going, there are numerous other elements hidden in plain sight that don’t bubble to the surface until they’re needed. This craftsmanship is the highlight and strongest facet of Dream House, and make for a thrilling first viewing experience.
While some reviews tend to give a nice plot rundown of films, with Dream House, it’s impossible to do so without ruining the experience for folks. The overused cliché is the term “spoilers,” but this isn’t about that. The discovery aspect of the film’s literal plot twists are a massive component of the movie, and to reveal those before people have a opportunity to see the film would be detrimental to their potential experience and enjoyment of the film.
There are quite a few plot twists thrown into Dream House. A few of them predictable, but others are not at all, and some even incorporated as subtle hints that most will probably not catch until a second or third viewing. All of these turns though, contribute to both a forbidding and challenging thriller. And while it is not perfect, it sure is a hell of a lot of fun being along for the ride.
Craig and Weisz put in some admirable performances in Dream House, in a manner that “schools” Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George on how they should have acted in the 2005 ruinous remake of Amityville Horror. Following along with their discoveries and emotional connection help the building blocks of this movie, and assist with the thriller aspect as well.
Craig, in particular, takes the film into some darker territory halfway in, evoking twisted notions of self-image and existentialism. The deeper he walks into these realizations, the harder it becomes for the audience to determine where the lines diving sanity and insanity have been drawn. And this, like other pieces, is by design – and benefits the film experience greatly.
I’d like to also mention that the kids in this movie that play the Atenton girls, are just wonderful as well. Claire Geare and Taylor Geare (sisters in real-life too!) were simply adorable in Dream House, contributing to a few very significant, and heart-breaking, scenes.
Naomi Watts, on the other hand, was simply just “there.” There was very little to remark about her presence in Dream House. Despite the fact that her character fulfilled an important role (indeed, perhaps more important than what some audience members may grasp), Watts simply doesn’t deliver her best on this occasion, which is disappointing. The sub-plot concerning her broken marriage is a significant factor in the overall plot, and deserved more attention than provided.
Meanwhile, on a related note, there were some elements that seemed to have been lobbed in for convenience’s sake to “wrap things up” as Dream House headed for its conclusion. While the climactic sequences are exciting, parts of those ‘mandatory explanation scenes’ just felt quite contrived, and in some aspects, coming out of left field. Essentially, while it does wrap up the movie, these factors would have been far better used and expanded upon throughout the entirety of the film.
Another unfortunate criticism, as a horror fan, is the manner in which Dream House has been marketed to individuals. It seems, to me at least, that the main drive behind advertising the movie has been posting it up around the place as a scary horror flick, with hints of a classic-style ghost story set in a haunted house. This is so distant from what the movie ends up being, I fear some horror fans might be put off by it. There is very little blood/gore factor involved at all – and not a great deal of “crap-your-pants” frights and scares.
However, in its place are the very rewarding moment(s) of mindfuck revelations – instances which make you sit forward and go, “WTF?”; scenes in such psychological thrillers that make you realize you’re going to need to see this movie a second (or even a third) moment to spot the earlier clues. This is one of those movies you are going to add to your “Mindfuck Movies” list. If you have one that is; I know I do!
In fact, because of these psych twists throughout Dream House, it shells out great dividends to pay extremely close attention to as many details as possible during the first half of the film. Every scene and every character and every name culminates towards these twists in the movie on plenty of levels – so much so, that Dream House is very much like an optical illusion of a puzzle: the puzzle already looks solved when it is given to you, but believe me, it is incomplete – and you have to work out how it is unfinished.
I’ve heard some highly critical remarks from stuffy movie-goers over this film, but let’s be honest here: overall, Dream House is a highly enjoyable ride. Yes, there are aspects that could be improved upon; and like all thrillers there will be people who pick hundreds of logic holes in the story; but the power of Dream House lies within its twists and revelations. These moments provide the audience with an incredible first viewing experience. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it again to try and spot the hints I missed!
Overall rating: 4 out of 5