A ‘House’ facing foreclosure

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

There’s so much mystery surrounding the psychological thriller flick “Dream House,” though not for the reasons that the picture wants us to. How could a film that boasts an acclaimed director and three terrific actors go so terribly wrong? How could a film so blatantly deplorable even be released? Whatever the reasons may be, “Dream House” will have a tough time finding positive reception from its audiences (that is, if it’s even watched at all).

Successful publisher Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quits his job in the city and moves to the suburbs with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and daughters Trish and Dee Dee (sisters Taylor and Claire Geare respectively). While writing his novel, he hopes to spend more time with his family.

However, as they settle into the house of their dreams, they begin to notice odd things, which range from a man peering through a window to teenagers gathering in the basement. Will soon discovers that the last owner of the house had murdered his wife and children there. As he investigates this tragedy further, Will turns to his neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts), who was close to the previous family but isn’t willing to reveal any secrets.

There have been reports that director Jim Sheridan, best known for acclaimed films like “My Left Foot” and “In America,” lost creative control of “Dream House” to the studio, and Craig and Weisz themselves were unhappy with its final cut. If all this information is true, then it paints a picture of how much pressure studios place on directors. In any case, even having this in mind doesn’t make the film any better.

There are traces of “Shutter Island” and even “Ghost” in “Dream House,” but the film features neither the emotions found in the former nor the peculiarity of the latter, simply because its story – which is poorly handled – is a mess from start to finish. This is quite a shame, as the basic plot is rather intriguing and would have made for some emotional material if executed well.

The film moves along at a brisk pace, and often does so too quickly for its own good. At times, it feels as if it wants to get to key scenes and twists in as urgently as possible. That being said, the build-up to certain scenes, as well as the characters’ backgrounds, is hardly established at all.

As if it wasn’t bad enough, the story is unabashedly predictable because it is incompetently set up. It’s easy to predict when a jump scare is about to occur, as we are cued by either silence or eerie music that slowly reaches a climax.

Those who have seen the trailer for “Dream House” will be fully aware that for some inexplicable reason, it gives away an important twist. Though this doesn’t occur until around the second act, it’s not very difficult to take note of characters and things that arouse suspicion throughout, and we can surely bet that they will play a major part as the story progresses. If the film somehow thinks that it’s too smart for us, then it’s sorely mistaken.

Just when the story can’t get any worse, it does. The film’s final scenes appear to be tacked on just for the hell of it and the end feels like a cheap act.

Craig and Weisz, who actually married each other several months ago, picked the wrong time to demonstrate the amiable relationship between them. They play the part of a married couple extremely well, and the way they communicate and respond come across as quite easy-going and natural. It’s quite amazing how believable the Atenton family’s chemistry is, especially with the Geare sisters involved, as the two pull off a good range of emotions.

The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Watts, Marton Csokas and Elias Koteas, are given very little material to display their acting abilities. As a result, none of them really impress and are quickly forgettable. It’s certainly not their fault, though – they’re merely victims of a film that was unfortunately butchered.

The cinematography and production design successfully contribute to the film’s sense of unease and sometimes, even claustrophobia. Even when there’s sufficient light inside the Atenton family’s house, it never feels safe. Snow blankets the neighborhood, and at night, the outside of the house adopts hues of black and blue, making it seem as if it’s hardly any safer out there.

The score by John Debney is unsettling and tonally perfect for the film. The conjunction of the images both inside and outside the house and the music serve to further enhance the film’s creepy impression.

“Dream House” ruins what could have been so promising by the way it severely fumbles the story, and the efforts of the cast and crew subsequently go to waste. This is one house that you do not want to enter into, much less buy. It’s worse than haunted.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5