Review: “Dream House”

Oct. 7, 2011, 12:54 a.m.
Review: "Dream House"
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

As the Halloween season begins, the time has come to cozy up in the movie theater with a big box of popcorn and a hand to hold during the scary parts of the thrillers that have become a seasonal treat. Fortunately, there is a new horror movie each weekend to frighten and delight. Sadly, “Dream House” is not one of those delightful flicks.

Advertised as a psychological horror thriller in the paranormal identity footsteps of “Shutter Island,” “Dream House” investigates the story of Will Atenton (played by the ever-shirtless Daniel Craig) and his family. Will decides to quit his unimportant, cosmopolitan job to spend more time in the suburbs with his family. After moving into his new dream home, which looks like every other home in the world because Will apparently dreams of mediocrity, he begins to notice strange things: his neighbors won’t speak to his family, his daughter sees a man outside and a cliched group of misguided punk teenagers clandestinely hold a seance in his basement. When Will and his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) learn that the previous father of the house gruesomely murdered his entire family, they finally decide that maybe Will should ask around.

Throughout the first half of the movie, paranoia lingers over the house with just a wisp of mysticism. Will’s detective work takes him from a neighboring house all the way to the insane asylum. There, he learns the shocking twist (one that was given away in the trailer, but mind the spoiler alert, just in case): Will is not really Will–he is the murdering father and has just been paroled from the asylum. His family exists only as his hallucinations, and he has been imagining the house in its former state of glory. The “dream” house is now revealed to be a decrepit shell, and Will has either suddenly aged five years or instantaneously developed a receding hairline, whichever seems more plausible.

The latter half devolves from a sub-standard hallucinatory horror film to a Lifetime criminal investigation movie. The melodrama is both overbearing and unexciting; a lecherous husband is brought into the fray, and the character of Libby just hangs around in the background (because even though Will hasn’t admitted she’s fictitious, the movie certainly has accepted her ghostly state) while Will talks with the mostly unnecessary neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts).

The lazy candor of the film is finally relinquished in the last 15 minutes. This is not for the better. Director Jim Sheridan, famous for helming ambitious Daniel Day-Lewis projects circa 1993, abandons his typical style of restrained melodrama for a frenzied melange of nonsense that results in the most perplexing and unemotional climax seen in theaters this year.

While the film is by no means a success, it isn’t a total failure. There are brief moments of legitimate–albeit completely cliche–tension in the first half: small children singing normal songs meant to seem scary, shots of people at the top of basement stairs, car attacks from an unseen driver, etc. Unfortunately, Daniel Craig’s hulky and capable presence, Rachel Weisz’s constantly watery eyes and the ephemeral moments of horror are nowhere near enough to save this misguided movie from its uneven tone and all-around lack of thrills, chills and blood spills.

Here’s looking forward to this coming weekend’s selection of horror: “The Human Centipede 2.”

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