Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Film Review: Dream House

"Dream House"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

Many times a studio will have a fine film on their hands but they won't know how to market it. They will make changes to the film against the director's wishes in an attempt to "sell" the film to a certain demographic. To have a wider commercial appeal. I have a feeling that's what happened to Jim Sheridan's "Dream House" (2011).

If you've happened to see the trailer for this film there is a good chance you were expecting a haunted house story. According to the trailer the film is about a family which moves into a new home, we assume this is where the film gets its title, it was their dream house, only to find out some disturbing secrets, like a family which was murdered in the house. It would seem the spirits of the house are trying to contact the living. Perhaps in an attempt to guard what they still feel is their home.

Well, I don't want to spoil anything for those that haven't seen this film yet, but, "Dream House" is and isn't about that. The film actually goes a little deeper than that. It is about the demons we keep inside us. Our inability to let go of the past. Not being able to fight our own skeletons in our closets. But the film has the look of a major Hollywood slasher film. A big-budget, brain dead production. Certainly that is how the film was marketed.

Daniel Craig plays Will Atenton. He and his family, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two daughters; Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Claire Geare) have left the city to move into their new suburban home. Will has even quit his job as an editor to spend more time with his family.

At first the film has the usual set-up we expect in a film such as this. The happy, well-adjusted family is excited about their new home. Everything seems perfect until one day the house starts to make noises and figures are seen outside the window and the neighbors don't seem so nice, in this film's case that would be Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts). What is going on?

Soon Will and Libby discover the house was the setting for a terrible murder. It is believed a man named Peter Ward killed his wife and two children. Peter is now going to be released from prison, where he was never found guilty of the crime. The fifth anniversary of the event is approaching making people in the community nervous. Will and Libby fear Peter is coming after their home.

The film has a terrific cast but no one really seems put to good use. Naomi Watts is wasted. A majority of the film has absolutely nothing to do with her. Her second billing is not deserved. Rachel Weisz has much more screen time. Watts is one of my favorite actresses working today. I believe she has extraordinary skills but "Dream House" does not allow her to display her acting range at all. An actress with the caliber of talent at Watt's level was not required of this role. It could have been a nice opportunity for an unknown actress to strike out. My guess is Watts was cast to remind people of her role in the horror film, "The Ring" (2002) which I never liked, including its sequel.

Craig fares a little better, because the role requires more of him but it just doesn't feel like Craig is giving his all in this movie. Everyone in the cast looks drained. Is director Jim Sheridan that difficult to work with?

For readers unaware Sheridan has actually directed some very good movies. He may be best known for "My Left Foot" (1989). He also directed "In the Name of the Father" (1993) and "In America" (2002), all of which were nominated for Academy Awards. So Sheridan has a pretty impressive track record. He is respected in the business. And one gets the feeling he wanted "Dream House" to be something more than your typical horror film. "Dream House" is really a psychological film. A kind of brain teaser. But the structure of the film felt a bit off. Somewhat underdeveloped. The movie's big twist felt a little too rushed for me.

I personally wouldn't call "Dream House" a scary movie. There isn't any blood or guts on-screen. No extreme violence. So, if after watching the trailer, you are expecting something along those lines, consider this your warning. You will be disappointed.

There's a good movie lurking around somewhere in "Dream House". I can most definitely see the possibilities. Sadly the final product doesn't live up to the film's potential. Too bad. This is a missed opportunity.