The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Dream House
Dream House? Nightmare movie is more like it.

It seems that about once or twice every year, Hollywood unleashes a genuine botch job a movie that has top talent and loads of potential, yet got messed up due to behind-the-scenes drama. Jonah Hex was a notable one from last year; this year brings us Dream House. There was reportedly a clash between Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) and producer/financier James Robinson. The result was the movie being drastically recut, much to Sheridan's disapproval. Even if I hadn't known this going in, I would have been able to guess based on what actually ended up on the screen. You can sense an ambitious human story being awkwardly squeezed into the format of a chiller.

Daniel Craig plays Will Atenton, an aspiring writer who moves into a beautiful new home with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two young daughters. Strange things begin happening almost immediately. Someone keeps peeking in the windows, local teens break into the basement to hold a ritual, and across-the-street neighbor Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts) spends a lot of time staring silently at Will every time he exits the house. Eventually, Will learns that the previous owner murdered his whole family in the home five years earlier, and has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital. He starts tracking the guy down to see if he's the one who has been lurking in the backyard. This leads to a startling discovery.

Dream House tries to do something interesting. It takes an oft-used plot twist, which usually occurs at the end of a movie, and inserts it into the middle. Perhaps you can already guess what that twist is. If not, watch the film's trailer, which shamelessly blows it. Believe me: you've seen it before. Anyway, rather than using that twist as a final shocker, Dream House uses it as a springboard for the second act. The plot shifts, so that it follows Will as he attempts to make sense of this new information and deal with the repercussions of it. This is, no doubt, what attracted Craig, Weisz, Watts, and Sheridan to the material. It offers a chance to tell a story with more emotional resonance than you usually get in a thriller.

Unfortunately, the release version of Dream House simultaneously tries to hit stereotypical thriller beats, and this is where trouble arises. A number of scenes feel like they're going in a character-based direction, only to be interrupted by an artificial attempt to put the audience on edge. Sometimes, the movie tries to generate suspense where none exists; creepy music and clanging metal sound effects play over top of scenes where nothing is happening. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Jim Sheridan wanted to make a thriller that evolved into a story of personal demons, whereas James Robinson wanted to make a picture that played like a thriller the whole way through. What's left is a film with a bizarre, disjointed tone that neither frightens nor engrosses.

In fairness, I'm not sure Sheridan's version would have been a masterpiece at least, not if the ending here is the one he planned to use. When the final explanation for everything is provided, it turns out to be antithetical to the very nature of Will's journey. I mean, if the movie is, at some level, supposed to be about him facing personal demons, it really wasn't wise to take those demons away from him. He becomes inherently less interesting when made to deal with someone else's demons. The movie gives Will an easy out that, frankly, negated any lingering interest I had in this scattershot picture to begin with.

You can't blame the actors. They all do fine work. Craig, in particular, seems invested in his role. It could have been a meaty one for him, but Dream House steps all over his carefully-calibrated performance with its attempts to be the kind of eerie supernatural thriller it so clearly is not. What a pitiful mess.

( 1/2 out of four)

Dream House is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.