Dream House is a mess of a film. This is not only because its writing is amateurish, but also because the film itself seemed like it was someone’s first attempt at putting a film together. Having a director like six-time Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan attached makes this seem impossible, but when you learn of the film’s troubled production, things begin to become a little clearer as to what went wrong.
The story revolves around Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) and his family. He has recently left his job to spend more time at his new home with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and two daughters. However, all is not well as strange things begin to happen such as people creeping around their house at night and even a bizarre meeting of teenagers in their basement. It is one of these teens who finally tells Will that his new home was the site of three murders where a man supposedly killed his family.
Will learns that the man’s name was Peter Ward and that he had been committed to an insane asylum before being sent to a halfway house. Seeking further information about Peter, Will goes to the asylum and inquires about him. One of Peter’s doctors shows Will old footage that demonstrates how difficult a patient Peter was, but it also reveals a disturbing fact that makes Will question everything that’s happened the past few years.
Starting with the writing, it gives one the feeling that it was written by someone writing their very first screenplay, someone who wanted to wrap a film around a twist, but couldn’t quite get it to work. The twist here is interesting, but the story surrounding it falls flat over and over before finally coming to a dead halt with an ending that feels like it was written out of desperation.
On top of this, there is basically no character development. There are changes in the main character’s life, but he never develops into a fill three-dimensional character that we care about. The same can be said of the weak supporting characters such as Libby and their neighbor across the street, Ann (Naomi Watts). The screenplay was written by David Loucka, who has no major credits to his name. In fact, the only film that rings a bell in his small filmography is Eddie starring Whoopi Goldberg. This is not a good thing.
Then there’s the construction of the film itself. The whole film has a very choppy feeling, as though the editor was trying to put together pieces that didn’t fit together. It also has a somewhat rushed pacing, like the filmmakers just wanted to get through the movie as fast as possible, leaving no time for that development it desperately needed. It turns out that there was a reason for why the film ended up like this.
I learn from The Internet Movie Database that Sheridan and the film’s studio, Morgan Creek, were constantly at odds during shooting. After reshooting some scenes for the film, the studio ended up taking away control over the movie from Sheridan and decided to re-cut it themselves. However, the final product was so disliked by Sheridan, Craig, and Weisz that they refused to do the press junket for it, and who can blame them after seeing what became of the film?
The studio also came under fire for releasing a trailer that revealed the big twist in the middle of the film. Sadly, like so many others, I saw this trailer well before seeing the film which ruined what could have been the film’s one interesting moment, because afterward, it was only downhill from there. As to why the studio would want to put out such a spoiler-filled trailer is anyone’s guess.
After the twist in the middle, there’s only the ending to look forward to, but again, since it feels so incredibly random, it falls flat, resulting in a film that pretty much has no redeeming features. If anything, “Dream House” advocates that studios shouldn’t try to barge in on a director’s vision, especially when there’s someone at the helm who obviously knows what they’re doing. Even the studio seemed to realize they had made a pretty bad mistake what with refusing to screen the film to critics beforehand.
Perhaps without studio interference, Sheridan would have been able to make something out of this mess of a story, but I guess we’ll never know, unless his cut of the film makes its way into the public’s eye someday. Then again, this could simply be a case of a film that couldn’t be saved, because when the story is this weak, even a director that has been recognized as being great at his craft might have great difficulty in salvaging it. 1.5/4 stars.
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