Universal // 2011 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 31st, 2012
What if the mystery you're trying to solve is your own?
"Did you know the people who used to live in that house?"
Will Atenton (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale) has just left his office job in the big city. He and his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy) have purchased a lovely new home in a quiet, idyllic neighborhood. Will is pleased to be able to do a little writing and spend some time with his wife and daughters, but alas, he's only been given a quantum of solace. It isn't long before Will makes a horrifying discovery: just five years ago, an entire family was slaughtered in the very house he's living in. This revelation inspires Will to investigate the history of the murders even further, leading to a series of increasingly strange and perplexing discoveries. Are Will and his family safe, or does darkness still exist in their dream house?
2011 was supposed to be a banner year for actor Daniel Craig. After a three-year break from acting, Craig was set to return with a vengeance. He was going to co-star with Harrison Ford in a big-budget science-fiction flick from the director of Iron Man, he was going to star in David Fincher's hotly anticipated remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he had landed a key supporting role in a Steven Spielberg film and he had taken the lead role in a suspense/thriller directed by the well-regarded Jim Sheridan (best known for doing fine work with Daniel Day-Lewis in films like My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and The Boxer). Alas, things didn't turn out nearly as well as Craig must have hoped. Cowboys and Aliens was one of the biggest disappointments of the summer. Craig seemed unfortunately miscast in Fincher's good-but-not-great remake (a rare instance of his commanding screen presence working against him) and he was overshadowed by the increasingly beloved Andy Serkis in The Adventures of Tintin (the reviews more or less forgot to mention Craig). The biggest bust of all was Jim Sheridan's Dream House, a thriller so uninspired it makes one want to reconsider the merits of M. Night Shyamalan's more critically derided films.
Unlike Shyamalan's misfires, Dream House isn't bad in a fascinating or ambitious sort of way. It's bad in a lazy, unimaginative, by-the-numbers sort of way that makes it instantly forgettable. It follows the familiar path of so many thrillers before it: it begins with a reasonably engaging premise, starts to get interesting and then devolves into mindless twists and needless action sequences during the final act. Full disclosure: I was slightly less intrigued than I probably should have been early on, because I had the misfortune of seeing the film's theatrical trailer a while back (which gives away all of the major developments which occur in the first 3/4ths of the movie). Even so, I found the extended set-up at least reasonably engaging, and I was legitimately curious to see where things would go in the end. Suffice it to say that the final twenty minutes of Dream House offer nothing more than an cringe-inducing ride to Contrivanceville.
During the film's climax, everything falls apart -- literally and otherwise. Characters suddenly begin behaving inexplicably, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred in disappointingly dull fashion and a series of Elias Koteas-enhanced developments are unleashed which prove incredibly unpersuasive. The most frustrating thing about Dream House is that it doesn't feel like it actually has a story to tell. It feels like the film was greenlit simply for the virtue of having a decent, marketable hook; never mind the fact that there wasn't even a half-respectable solution to its central dilemma in place (by the way, if it sounds as if I'm being needlessly vague, that's only because I've determined not to reveal some of the major developments the trailer decides to go ahead and spoil).
Unfortunately, the A-list cast sinks with the rest of the ship. Craig looks alternately lost and bored throughout most of the proceedings, failing to bring anything of interest to the table. He's perfectly adequate as a loving father and moderately concerned homeowner, but when things start getting wild Craig goes on autopilot. Even more frustrating is the fact that Naomi Watts (Eastern Promises) and Rachel Weisz are completely wasted. How on earth do you cast two of Hollywood's smartest, most capable actresses in your movie and then neglect to give them anything to do? Watts and Weisz both have a reputation for sticking to smart and/or ambitious material; how did Sheridan persuade them to accept a role in this dreck? The gifted Elias Koteas is wasted, and the less said about Martin Csokas (The Debt), the better.
At least Dream House (Blu-ray) manages to deliver a satisfying 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. It's certainly not the world's sharpest-looking flick, but that's largely due to the intentionally soft, dreamlike palette Sheridan and co. have created. The movie has an effectively quiet, dimly-lit visual design which gives the film a compelling sense of atmosphere during the early stretches. It's not groundbreaking, but it isn't lazy, either. The level of detail is middling by design, but blacks are impressively deep and shadow delineation is excellent throughout. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is adequate, but it doesn't quite deliver the chilling, immersive experience it ought to. John Debney's score is disappointingly generic, running through some wheezy musical conventions without really establishing a compelling identity of its own. The big action sequences of the third act pack a bit of a punch, but nothing that will give your speakers a workout. Supplements are comprised of short, disposable featurettes ("Building the Dream House," "Burning Down the House," "The Dream Cast" and "A Look Inside"), a theatrical trailer and BD-Live functionality. Meh.
It's reported that Jim Sheridan wasn't happy with Dream House and the theatrically released version of the film was dramatically different from what he had in mind. Even so, there's so little of value in the flick that I have a hard time imagining a director's cut fixing the problems built into this messy movie. What a waste of talented people.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* D-Box Enabled
* Official Site