The first time I saw the trailer for Dream House, I was a little worried. The fact that Daniel Craig’s character was just imagining his dead family was what made the standard premise interesting. However, if the revelation came too late in the movie, it would actually be a spoiler and the movie would be ruined on us. The only way to find out for sure was to go and see it, so Dream House is what I ended up choosing this week. On the surface, it’s a thriller with a plotline we’ve seen a thousand times before:
A family moves into a new house only to discover that something horrible happened to the last family who lived there… and may be about to happen to them.
The difference is that we already know that family is them, and that daddy is dreaming all this, which the trailer makers had to tell us if they didn’t want us to ignore the movie because we think it’s the same as all the other haunted house movies. Now that I’ve seen the full film, I can tell you definitively that the screenwriter, David Loucka, bungled almost every possible “reveal,” so Dream House doesn’t earn more than a “meh” from me.
Bungling and the assumption that the audience is stupid is what killed this film. We start off in a New York publishing house as Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quits his job to move to a small town with his wife Libby (Rachel Weiss) and daughters Trish and Dee Dee (Taylor and Claire Geare). This part is happy and bubbly and boring and exactly what you don’t want as the first scene in a movie, especially since it has nothing to do with anything. We already know from the trailer that it isn’t real, and that his name is really Peter Ward. Even if we didn’t, giving him a stupid last name like “Atenton,” which is obviously made up and sounds like a British motorway designation, makes it really clear that something is up.
Yadda yadda he’s happy, we get it.
And speaking of having nothing to do with anything, during these first ten minutes or so we’re also treated to an intimate portrait of life in the house of Will’s neighbor across the street, Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts). Ann has a bastard husband named Jack (Marton Csokas) who is suing for custody of their teenage daughter Chloe (Rachel Fox). Again we must ask – why do we care? The only reason to include these scenes is if these characters are going to be significant later, and there’s really only one role available for them to fill.
And it’s not as a nice, well-adjusted counterpoint to Will’s family
The movie muddles on for another 45 minutes or so as Will and his family see mysterious men at windows, discover teenagers having séances in their basement, and find toys and height markings for children remarkably similar to Trish and Dee Dee. It’s supposed to be mysterious, but we already know what they’re hinting at, so it’s just annoying. “Get on with it!” You’ll say as they hint for the hundredth time that “something is wrong with this house.”
Yes yes, it’s very creepy. Now stop ripping off The Shining and get on with it.
Eventually Will pulls his thumb out and tracks down this Peter Ward character who supposedly killed his family in their house. He visits the psychiatric hospital where Peter was sent, and quelle surprise, discovers that HE is Peter Ward and that even though he was a danger to himself and others, he was released back into the community under the stupid name he invented for himself.
Upon this revelation, Daniel Craig gets instantly skuzzy.
And here’s where things start to get really retarded. Peter has no memory of the incident because he was shot in the back of the head. He was found slumped against the wall with the back of his skull blown off, and yet somehow he ended up being the prime suspect in the murders – prime enough that the whole town has tried and convicted him in their minds – yet there’s no evidence he did it, so they had to let him go. I dunno about you, but if I walked into a crime scene and saw someone with a bullet in their head, “That’s him! He’s the killer!” would not be my first thought.
Help! My husband accidentally shot himself in the back of the head and now he’s coming for me!
The fact is, though, the movie needed Peter to have both memory trauma and suspicions that he might be a killer, and this was the only way they could think of to do it. The only people who don’t believe he’s a psycho killer are the neighbors across the street, who don’t even bat an eyelid when they find out he’s hallucinating his family. Instead, they invite the obviously crazy and possibly murderous man into their house for a bath and some snackies. This is common in thriller characters, who all seem to have no survival instinct.
Hmm, I heard a noise. Maybe I should investigate in my revealing lingerie.
We’re racing toward our conclusion now. As if it’s not enough that it’s completely obvious who the killer is, the writers also throw in a bunch of crap to muddy the waters and cast a net of confusion over everything, hoping no one will notice that they don’t know what they’re doing. Certain bits and pieces they throw in make it unclear whether Peter’s family are hallucinations or ghosts, and even hint that “it’s all a dream!” which is the biggest copout in film writing history.
They put bells on the basement door specifically so Ghost Libby could jingle them in the climax.
I didn’t mind Dream House while I was watching it, apart from in the beginning when I was annoyed with them for dancing around the revelation they put in the trailer. But the more I think about it now the less inclined I am to give it the benefit of the doubt. The writing is just bad. That’s all there is too it. I find it hard to imagine how the script managed to attract Daniel Craig, Rachel Weiss, Naomi Watts, and Marton Csokas, unless the aspects that ruined it weren’t added until later (given director Jim Sheridan’s battles with the studio, this seems likely). Regardless, the movie was ruined, so there’s really no point in going to it.