Dream House (2011)

OCTOBER 8, 2011


With the director wanting his name taken off the final cut of the film and the two main stars refusing to do press, you'd think Dream House would be a disaster from start to finish, with obvious reshoots, jarring editing, and the other usual signs of a heavily tinkered film. But to my eyes, Dream House just seems like it was always destined to be exactly what it is: a dull, pointless Hollywood attempt at a twisty horror/drama that any respectful genre fan could figure out after 15 minutes or so. If this was heavily re-edited, they did a fine job of making it look like it was always lame.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Even a couple the trailer doesn't give away!

Much has been made about the film's trailer spoiling the entire movie, but that's slightly misleading - the twist everyone is referring to is actually the halfway point of the movie, and thus a trailer that hid it would technically be selling a different movie (that a woman is currently suing the studio behind Drive for their own allegedly misleading trailers makes this point all the more relevant). See, here's the thing - I actually managed to avoid the trailer, and someone on Twitter actually misdirected me by claiming the film was a ripoff of a different movie, but I still figured out the so-called "twist" after about ten minutes. The odd name given to Daniel Craig's character and the fact that we were never getting a clear shot of the killer he was supposedly looking for made it pretty obvious what was going on.

So that wasn't really the problem with the film - it's the fact that once it's revealed, the movie completely loses momentum. Craig, now knowing he was the man who was accused of killing his family, spends the rest of the movie trying to convince wife Rachel Weisz that she's a ghost, while also trying to solve the mystery of who REALLY killed her. Unfortunately, this mystery was completely spoiled even before the so-called "split personality twist", because the film goes out of its way to introduce a shady looking Elias Koteas, as well as a subplot about Craig's neighbor (Naomi Watts) engaged in custody battle with her ex - two elements that stick out like sore thumbs and thus are obviously important, in a narrative that offers no red herrings of any sort.

Thus, maybe the specifics won't be obvious from the start, but those two key points (as well as a throwaway line about the confusing layout of Craig's street) are set up and then not mentioned again until the movie's almost over, which is always a problem. And since it's not particularly interesting, you have a movie that simply has nothing to retain audience interest in between these wholly botched "reveals". There's just not enough meat on the bone; perhaps in original cuts the Koteas character and the divorce/custody subplot were given more time, but here, with their obligatory single mentions in the film's first ten minutes, they might as well have just explained their connection right off the bat, rather than delay it to the end, where we're supposed to be surprised that Craig's family was the victim of mistaken identity (the ex-husband hired Koteas to kill Watts, but Koteas fucked up and went to the wrong house).

On that note, once again, the Elias Koteas problem. How many times am I going to see a horror movie that features Koteas as some cryptic character who pops up early on and then more or less disappears until the end of the movie when his character takes part in the big revelations? He's a good actor and has been around for well over 20 years at this point - is this really the best Hollywood can do for him? He's playing a street hood for Christ's sake - this is a role that should have gone to a recurring actor from a TV show that was testing the waters for a transition to big screen work, like, I dunno, that Lincoln dude from Fringe or maybe Castiel from Supernatural. He barely even has any real lines, just a lot of "What are you doing here?" type filler dialogue.

Plus, and far more troubling, it's not scary or suspenseful in the slightest. The early stuff is too generic to register ("I thought I saw someone standing outside!"), and once you realize how incompetent Koteas and the ex-husband are, you can pretty much guarantee the survival of the still breathing actors. The film's final shot definitely sticks out a bit, so perhaps there was one more bittersweet death in the climax at one point, but it hardly would have mattered much. There's also little to suggest why any of these great actors signed on; while Craig is a good choice (he gets to play against type, and then totally his usual type), for the life of me I can't figure out why Rachel Weisz would play such a thankless wife role, or why Naomi Watts would play a neighbor who barely even speaks until the third act. Again, these are the sort of roles that should be played by relative newcomers best known for TV roles (January Jones and maybe the girl from Castle), not Oscar winners/nominees. There would have to be at least an hour's worth of quality excised material (either on the script or the cutting room floor) for me to start to understand why they bothered signing on. Especially Weisz - she turned down what was most likely a better payday for the 3rd Mummy movie because she didn't agree with the script (the part went to Maria Bello, now - heh - starring on a TV show), so what the hell drew her to this?

(Unless she knew she'd end up falling in love with and marrying Daniel Craig. In that case, good for her!)

Even in the realm of "If you've never seen a movie before..." twist thrillers, this one just doesn't deliver. Too slow and uneventful to provide mindless thrills, and too under-developed to appeal to those who enjoy using their noggin a bit (actually borderline insulting to those folks; why would Koteas kill two children - even the wrong ones - if he was hired to help a guy win custody of his child?), nothing about it works beyond a few scenes of Craig investigating what turns out to be himself, and those who saw the trailer (or read this review) would already be ahead of him anyway. Waste of talent and time on all levels.

What say you?


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