Picture those water-filled crystal balls that you shake up where snow flakes whisk around a neighborhood. Only difference being; instead of the snow flakes falling down on decorated houses primed for the Christmas season, they end up dropping on a small suburban neighborhood that is coping with a tragic murder of a family.
Dream House is a 92 minute psychological drama with a mystery and horror flare. Well, at least it’s trying to be. The haunted house aspect shows up in the first half of the flick when Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) quits his high profile job in the big city and moves his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his two young daughters (Taylor Geare & Claire Geare) into middle-class home that needs a little fixing up. Right away his daughters constantly complain about seeing a man wondering around outside and the local police force doesn’t seem too concerned about it. After doing a bit of research, Will learns that a man murdered his family in their home five years ago and has been institutionalized in a nearby psych hospital.
While he continues poking around, everyone is being very vague on what happened. And that includes his curious neighbor across the street in Ann (Naomi Watts). One can see Ann wants to tell Will something yet she keeps their rare interactions brief. Eventually Will sees the figure that has been lurking around his home and Libby becomes concerned about what actions her husband will take.
Although this starts out as a possible haunting tale, the story slowly transitions into thriller mode once the veil has been lifted on what is really going on halfway through. This twist is usually reserved for the climatic moment but the script made a bold move in revealing its hand at this point. By doing so, there is a natural intrigue on how the second half of this straight-up psychological mystery will pan out.
Now since the second half cannot be reveal for spoiler purposes, the only thing that can be commented on is if the rest of the film was able to deal with the risky play of tossing in a twist (that could be obvious to veteran movie watchers) halfway through. The answer is: kind of. Trying to shake things up and deviate from the normal pattern this genre suffers from is an admirable move. And the performances by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz sell it just enough to keep the viewer thinking if what they’re seeing is really happening within the story. But they’re the only ones covering that angle; for the problem is…that’s all the movie relies on. Despite the horror/thriller atmosphere, there isn’t anything that will scare you – even during the first half – and the scripting gives up in trying to have your mind go back-n-forth. Again, the filmmakers have laid out their cards and run with it. They must have felt they given the audience enough to chew on. Eh, not so much.
There really needed to be more here. Switching a few arrangements around in the screenplay is a nice touch, and answering the questions viewers may have at the end will leave them mildly content. Chances are though; no one will be fully satisfied despite the efforts of the storytelling mechanics. The set designs are decent for this tale to take place in and the acting is on par with the tone; but there’s still absolutely nothing else happening, and therefore, critique. There are not even cheap sound effect shenanigans to induce a few jumps! In other words, yours truly has fluffed up this review way too much already. Only thing left to say is that this is a movie Harrison Ford would have signed on for every ten years or so (think Frantic and/or What Lies Beneath). And if you have a blank look on your face based on that reference, your decision has already been made for you.
Overall, Dream House combines a few suspense genre tools with a couple of twists. Once the story unveils the hook, the rest of film struggles to keep the entertainment and interest levels from dipping. Just like when we dream: it played out great in our minds but when we write it out it never fully comes out the way we saw it in our heads. It looks like the filmmakers shared that crux after they wrote & shot the first half.
Dream House is rated PG-13 and opens in the Tampa Bay market today.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5