Director : Jim Sheridan
Screenplay : David Loucka
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : 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), Brian Murray (Dr. Medlin), Bernadette Quigley (Heather Keeler), Sarah Gadon (Cindi), Gregory Smith (Artie)
It is hard to render a thorough judgment of Jim Sheridan’s psychological thriller Dream House since the Universal Pictures marketing department decided that it would be a good idea to reveal the film’s twist, which arrives about halfway through the story, in the trailer. If you haven’t seen the trailer, the first half of the film will play decidedly differently than it will for those of us who know “the big secret” and are twiddling our thumbs waiting for its inevitable reveal and hoping that there is more to it than what we think we know. As it turns out, there is more, but not much, which makes Dream House a rather lumbering vehicle that runs primarily on formula and (pseudo)psychological ploys that we have seen too many times at this point to warrant much excitement.
For those who have escaped the film’s ruinous marketing, I will steer clear of revealing any major plot information. The story centers around Will Atenton (Daniel Craig), a successful editor at a New York publishing house who quits his lucrative job to stay at home in order to write a novel and be closer with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two young daughters Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Claire Geare). Will and his family have recently moved to a cozy fixer-upper in a small New England town, but there are immediate intimations that all is not right, including the vicious glare Will gets from Jack Patterson (Marton Csokas), the angry ex-husband of his across-the-street neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts). The girls also report seeing someone with a “fuzzy” head standing outside the house at night, which Will tries to attribute to childhood imagination until he sees tracks in the snow the next morning. All of this leads to the revelation that there a terrible event took place in the house before Will and his family moved in, and someone dangerous may be on the loose after having been released for a psychiatric ward.
To say any more would risk repeating the damage done by the trailer, but suffice it say that the story takes a serious turn into different territory about halfway through, which most viewers will likely see as a lazy (and overly familiar) cheat that allows screenwriter David Loucka (whose last screenplay was for the 2002 straight-to-video thriller Borderline) to draw out the already threadbare story and make it seem more complicated than it actually is. Director Jim Sheridan, who has directed some excellent dramatic films over the years, including My Left Foot (1989), In the Name of the Father (1993), and In America (2002), does not fare well in this different genre material, falling prey to clichés and somber moodiness (courtesy of veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel) without earning the emotional gravitas of true tragedy. Given his previous films, one imagines that Sheridan was drawn to the interlocking stories of familial heartbreak, which is why the film’s faux horror-thriller window dressing feels so mechanical; his heart isn’t in the material. It doesn’t help that Daniel Craig plays Will so strangely, alternating between somnambulist and unconvincing family man in a way that feels so confused that even the big twist isn’t enough to justify its incoherence.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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