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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Dream House


Dream House (Two Stars)

U.S.: Jim Sheridan, 2011

 In Dream House, an almost mystifying misfire of a would-be classy, smart horror movie, Daniel Craig plays Will Atenton, a New York City publishing house editor who quits his job and moves out of the city — with his angelic wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two adorable daughters Trish and Dee Dee (Taylor and Claire Geare, of Inception) — to write a novel in the rustic comfort of homey, small town New England. Soon enough, however, Will learns that the dream house he purchased, which initisally almost suggested something Thomas Kinkade might paint — a homey old-fashioned dwelling with glowing-gold windows — is more of a nightmare. Somebody murdered three people there, a mother and two children, and whoever it was, may be lurking around again.

 Since the movie is set in New England, you might even expect the novelist to look or act a bit like New Englander Stephen King — though Daniel Craig (007) has a wounded but literate mug that’s right for this character, just as Weisz and the Geare girls are right for his family. But instead, it’s the movie that gives you déjà vu. The plot resembles, in many ways, King’s best book, The Shining, with a touch of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island as well. Both those novels were turned into excellent movies — though (I hate to say this) Stanley Kubrick‘s brilliantly directed film version of The Shining is less effective than the novel and has a big script flaw. (Jack goes crazy way too soon.)

 Dream House is an original by David Loucka (The Dream Team) and it simply, deceptively, has the look of a classy novel-derived picture, as well as a classy cast: the four above plus Naomi Watts as Ann Patterson, the woman next door, Martin Csokas as her angry ex-husband, Elias Koteas as a sinister kibitzer, and Jane Alexander as a compassionate psychiatrist.

 That fine Irish Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Field) and the sometimes great cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion, The Right Stuff) are the pair that make this move look good — scary and plush. The script though — and what a critical cliché this is these days — makes the movie a shallow, unconvincing, faintly obnoxious time-waster — unless the culprits are he people who took the movie out of Sheridan‘s hands and re-edited it. That script lacks everything it might need to compete with its models — or even to compete with The Amityville Horror. It has indifferent dialogue (its biggest flaw), shallow characters, and telegraphed plot twists.

I don’t want to bother with any spoiler alerts (though one of them should reportedly be tacked onto this movie‘s trailer). But the basic situation of Dream House makes no sense (even on its own genre terms,), the ending is annoyingly off he wall, and the ending after the ending is even worse. Probably the only way to get scared watching it is to bring a Stephen King novel into the theater and read it by flashlight.

 Sheridan, who might consider making a film or two back in Ireland, is a top director, a good storyteller who’s excellent with actors and who really should be working with better material than this. That’s a critical cliché too, I guess. But how do you think it got to be a cliché?

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