Daniel Craig learns that a comfortable house in the suburbs can also be a horrible gory death trap in Dream House, a kind of well-acted but ultimately flat suspense movie.
Let’s talk trailers. This is the kind of movie that you’re likely to see pretty much only if you’ve seen the trailer for it — spooky children, creepy house, murders, Daniel Craig looking grim, Rachel Weisz looking worried and a reveal of the twist that comes about halfway through the movie. Unfortunately, the twist is possibly the only exciting thing the movie has going for it. So the movie’s one clever feature was a known quantity when I sat down to watch it. I spent half the movie wondering when we were going to get to that part and the last half wondering if that’s all there was to the story.
And, yes, I will spoil that twist. Consider yourself alerted.
Will Atenton (Craig) is a successful editor who decides to leave his job in New York City to spend more time with his family in their suburban Connecticut home and, what else, write a novel. His wife Libby (Weisz) is thrilled to have Will home for good and looking forward to their wonderful new life with daughters Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Clair Geare). What they don’t realize is that their “dream home” has a reputation. As Will finds out one night when he chases a group of teenagers off his lawn, it was once the home to a man named Peter Ward who was believed to have killed his whole family — wife Elizabeth, daughters Beatrice and Katherine. He was also shot during the incident and because he wasn’t fit to stand trial he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for years and was only recently released. Why didn’t the neighbors tell us about this?, Libby wonders. As Will tries to investigate the murders, he starts to get a lot of strange looks, particularly from Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), the neighbor across the street.
Will tries to find Peter Ward at the halfway house where he’d been living but, disturbingly, only finds a photo of his own family. Terrified that Peter Ward will come after his family, Will heads to the psychiatric hospital, where he receives shocking news — he is Peter Ward.
Gasp! Shocking! Surprising! Unexpected!
Semi-convinced of who he really is, Peter/Will sets about trying to figure out what really happened to his family that night — did he kill them or was it somebody else? Do the footprints in the snow and shadowy figures he sees around his house have something to do with it all? And why did Ann come to visit him at the hospital?
The answer to all of these questions is astoundingly unoriginal and slap-dashedly presented in the movie’s final act. By this point, you’ve stopped caring about Peter/Will and his ghost family and aren’t interested in the fragile Ann. I found myself more wrapped up not in what was actually happening on the screen but in what the movie was trying to tell me was happening. Why are the characters drawn the way they are — are they supposed to seem dreamlike or sinister or all warped by Peter/Will’s own mental state? Is the half-baked feel of the story a part of some sort of mood it’s trying to set? Is the general confusion of the story on purpose? And, perhaps most confounding, why is a movie with so many crazy characters so dull?
Dream House is blessed with some first-class actors in Craig, Weisz and Watts, but it does nothing with them. Oh, Craig makes a go at it, he grims like a champ. I’m starting to think that Cowboys & Aliens was actually a passing of the grimace between gruff, constipated old Harrison Ford and a younger, sour, stepped-on-a-tack-and-trying-not-to-swear Craig. But all that heavy facial expression doesn’t feel justified when put into this lightweight, underachieving affair. Unless that look is just Craig wondering to himself “Wasn’t I just James Bond? How did I end up in this?” C-
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language. Directed by Jim Sheridan with a screenplay by David Loucka, Dream House is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures.