(by Dustin Putman
Shouldn't a film's advertising be a delectable tease of what's to come, a means of getting people into theaters by the suggestion of what it has to offer rather than a rundown of virtually every plot point it contains? The theatrical trailer for "Dream House" was one of those egregious examples of overselling a product to the point where it felt like a two-and-a-half-minute encapsulation of a whole 90-minute picture. Why bother paying for a movie that a consumer feels as if he or she has already seen? Sure enough, having sat through "Dream House," Universal Pictures has some explaining to do. The balancing act between what is and isn't disclosed to the main character and audience is carefully and painstakingly set up by director Jim Sheridan (2009's "Brothers") like a house of cards, and for what? If this film were "The Sixth Sense," people would be walking in already knowing that Bruce Willis is, well, you know. Comparisons to that chilling, heartbreaking 1999 M. Night Shyamalan classic will have to end there, unfortunately. Not knowing ahead of time where things were going may have added some intrigue to the front half, but it wouldn't have solved the movie's deeper fundamental issues. Overly familiar and rather dull, this is a tepid, excitement-free Hallmark telepic dressed up in an A-list thriller's clothing. Article continues below
In a bid to spend more time with his family, New York editor Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) bids farewell to his job at GPH Publishing and heads to his new country home in New Ashford, Connecticut. As wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) applies a fresh coat of paint on the walls and young daughters Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Claire Geare) put on tea parties and practice the piano, Will settles into the idea of a slowed-down lifestyle with more time to work on his own respective writing projects. As so often happens in these kinds of films, the family's peaceful existence is up-ended when they begin seeing people lurking outside at night, then catch a group of teens holding a seance in the basement. As it turns out, a wife and children were murdered in the house five years earlier allegedly at the hands of the father, a man named Peter Ward. It's a discovery that could certainly put a damper on things for the new residents. A cause for even greater concern, however, is waiting in the wings. With insufficient evidence to convict him for the crimes, Peter has just recently been released from nearby Greenhaven Psychiatric Hospital.
Anyone who has seen the trailers for "Dream House" will know where this is going, and who Peter Ward really is. If you don't, it is not worth finding out. Set up as a horror-thriller, the film proves neither scary nor suspenseful, and rarely tries to be. This genre is clearly not director Jim Sheridan's forté, and it shows. Why he was hired for the job is anyone's guess, though his participation probably attributed to such a top-notch cast agreeing to take part in a project that would typically be considered beneath them. There is a hint of the supernatural in the third act, but it is treated with a cornball hand. Viewers expecting chills will receive none. As a psychological drama, which is what "Dream House" is in actuality, the screenplay by David Loucka delves into mundane waters and stays there. Instead of coming off as a tragedy, the story plays like feeble, borderline-Disneyfied melodrama drenched in a big smattering of soppy sentiment.
For a performer usually seen in either period films or as James Bond, Will Atenton is a warmer, noticeably more contemporary role for Daniel Craig (2011's "Cowboys & Aliens") to tackle. That is the only aspect that could have understandably lured him to this character. Craig embraces and convincingly tackles the nuances within Will's fragile mind—the love he has for his family, and the confusion he experiences when certain revelations come to light—but he's still just a pedestrian construct being pulled by the strings. Important to note that even in the face of devastation, Will continues to prance around in a stylish, form-fitting leather jacket while smoldering seductively. He might be crazy, but at least he is conscientious about keeping up appearances. Rachel Weisz (2009's "The Lovely Bones") does what she can with wife Libby, her most impressionable moment coming when Will lovingly tells her to "stay like that forever." "Sorry," she replies, "not possible. Not forever." As sympathetic divorced neighbor Ann Patterson, whom Will confides in, Naomi Watts (2010's "Fair Game") is criminally wasted. What could have possibly drawn her to this role if not for her trust in director Sheridan?
"Dream House" opens with splendidly frosty imagery courtesy of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (2009's "My Sister's Keeper"), snow blanketing the New York City skyline before following Will to his new idyllic home in New Ashford. It's a handsome start, but its arresting aesthetics deserve a far better film than this one. Even if the narrative design is fairly meticulous, it is also increasingly far-fetched, and what might have been deemed clever ten years ago seems routine and unimaginative now. With no special further surprises up its sleeve, the picture remains stuck in first gear. It doesn't work as a creepy haunted house story, if that's what it's trying to be, and its emotional core is sincere but ineffectual and prosaic. A bewilderingly inert mystery of foregone conclusions, "Dream House" equates to a shoulder shrug and an eye roll.