Dream House

There are probably some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories that would explain why “Dream House” is such a ruined pile of nonsense. How does a movie directed by two-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot”) and starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts turn out this bad? Rumor has it Sheridan lost control of the picture to studio overlords, and that neither he nor the principal actors are at all happy with what is now being projected onto unsuspecting movie screens. Assuming that’s the case, wouldn’t you like to hear all the juicy anecdotes?

The story about “Dream House” is almost certainly more entertaining than the story in “Dream House,” which is pedestrian and stupid. It involves Will Atenton (Craig), a big-city book editor who has left his job to focus on his own writing, and to spend time with his family in the house they’ve just bought in a small Connecticut town. His loving wife, Libby (Weisz), and adorable little girls, Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Claire Geare), have been fixing up the place, just waiting for daddy to come home.

But the across-the-street neighbor, Ann (Watts), acts skittish toward Will, and her teenage daughter seems genuinely afraid. It turns out this is because — wouldn’t you know it? — the last people who lived in the house got murdered. A mother and her two kids were shot to death; the husband was a suspect but was never charged. All in the very house in which Will and his wife and two kids now live! Huh!

You see where this is going. If you don’t, you can watch the film’s trailer, which freely divulges where this is going. What the trailer tells us, and what we learn by the film’s halfway point, is that the people who were killed are Libby and the girls, and that Will has spent the last five years in a mental institution. His wife and children are not actually present in the house but are figments of his imagination (or ghosts, or something). Also, he doesn’t remember killing them and doesn’t think it sounds like something he would do.

Once this information is out in the open — after you’ve watched either 45 minutes of the movie or two minutes of the trailer — there isn’t much left for the film to do. Will accepts that his family is dead, and even tells Ann across the street that sometimes he sees them, an admission that Ann finds touching rather than terrifying. All that’s left is for him to remember why he murdered them, or else to discover who the real killer was. This process is dragged out for another 45 excruciating minutes. David Loucka’s tepid screenplay, already a constant stream of mediocrity, has painted itself into a corner: there is no resolution that can possibly ties up the loose ends AND be satisfying AND make sense. The resolution Loucka came up with (or who knows, maybe it was the studio, or Sheridan, or a Magic 8-Ball) is especially feeble. It’s the sort of laughable melodrama that would be embarrassing as a 10th-season episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” let alone as a motion picture from a major Hollywood studio.

Some of this doesn’t matter as long as the movie delivers chills and suspense like it’s supposed to. We don’t notice the hogwash if we’re too busy being scared. But that’s where “Dream House” fails the most. Not a single scare is contained within these 92 minutes, not one tense moment or burst of adrenaline-boosting action. To make a thriller as completely devoid of thrills and as blandly ludicrous as this is, you’d almost have to be doing it on purpose. And maybe that’s what they did! Wouldn’t you like to hear that story? I sure would!

D- (1 hr., 32 min.; PG-13, one F-word, some violent images.)

Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.

Reprinted from Film.com.