Dream House (2011) a (mildly) belated review

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before (part 2):  Idyllic guy and idyllic family move into an idyllic home out in the suburbs, only to find that there was a brutal murder committed there a few years before.  Strange goings-on ensue…

The last time I used the above opening was for The Bourne Legacy (read the full review here) a film that, ironically enough, also starred Rachel Weisz.

In the case of Dream HouseDaniel Craig is Will Atenton, a family man who at the start of the film quits his job and heads to his “dream house” where his wife (Rachael Weisz) and two daughters are already living.  Now free of his city job, he plans to settle down and write a book, fix up the house, and bask in his close relationship with his wife and young family.  But strange things, of course, are afoot and husband and wife discover that five years before the family who lived in the house -all but the husband- were brutally murdered.  The husband was shot in the head by his wife, an act the police believe was meant in self defense.  However, much as they suspect the husband killed the rest of the family, there isn’t enough evidence to verify his guilt and the man was sent to a psychiatric hospital and, eventually, released…

…is he now stalking Atenton and his family?  What are his plans…if any?  And what about the family’s neighbor (Naomi Watts, completely wasted in a role I suspect was considerably trimmed down as the film was made)?  What secrets does she hold?

The little plot presented above gives you most of what you need to know about this film before treading dangerously close to SPOILER territory.

Which I will do now.



Still here?

Ok, you’ve been warned.  The upshot is this:  Will Atenton, we find, is in reality the man who previously owned the house.  He is indeed the man people think (but couldn’t prove) killed his wife and two children.  In Atenton’s current fantasy world, he quit his job in the “big city” but in reality was released from his psychiatric hospital and returned to his vacant home.  His wife and children are hallucinations or, as revealed later in the film, actually ghosts he alone can see.  The mysterious neighbor, of course, knows who he is and humors his hallucinations/visions.  Of all the townsfolk, she alone suspects he didn’t have anything to do with his family’s murder.

Eventually it is revealed this is indeed the case, that the murderer is actually the neighbor’s ex-husband (a short fused bully of a man who wants sole custody of his child from Naomi Watt’s character) and his partner in crime, a thug he hired to kill his wife but who went to the wrong home (I think…I might have been hallucinating myself by that point in the film).

Most of this, by the way, is revealed in the theatrical trailer, presented below.  Seriously, studios…why bother making the film if you’re going to give almost everything away in the trailer?

Anyway, Dream House, unfortunately, is not a very good film.  It never really engages you and when the big reveal comes so early in the movie you can’t help but wonder (and predict) why any time at all was spent on the neighbor and her short-fused ex-husband.  As mentioned before, Naomi Watts is wasted in what amounts to a very small role and I couldn’t help but think that there were considerable changes made to the screenplay as filming was done.  Why, after all, would Naomi Watts, a big star and listed as second star in this film after Daniel Craig, agree to do such a, in the end, small role?  Further, the pace of the film often lags and tests one’s patience.  Given how easy it is to predict where the movie is going, that becomes a double problem.

If there is one bright spot it is a sequence toward the very end, a genuinely emotional final scene between the haunted Atenton and the ghosts of his deceased family.  I found this part to be incredibly well done…emotional, exciting…even sad.  I wish the rest of the film could have been half as good as those few minutes.

As good as the scene is, it does present one of the film’s most glaring plot holes:  If it is confirmed that Atenton is not hallucinating but actually seeing the ghosts of his dead family and they are trying to help him…why didn’t they reveal everything to him earlier?  Why didn’t his wife tell him who actually killed her and her family?  It makes no sense at all.

Needless to say, unless you’re really, really bored and would like to see Daniel Craig doing something a little less “suave” than James Bond, there is little reason for you to bother seeing Dream House.