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Dream House
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DREAM HOUSE (2011)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Elias Koteas, Marton Csokas

Written By: David Loucka Directed By: Jim Sheridan

The Short Version

If you can, try not to watch the trailer first.

Try also to remember that horror and thrillers are two different things; this is the latter, and mild at that.

Daniel Craig’s performance is as solid as it gets.

The atmosphere is well-maintained throughout, despite any spoilers.

Though ultimately predictable, Dream House is still a fairly decent movie.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

REDUCED FAT NACHO CHEESE DORITOS.

You know what they’re going to taste like before you open the bag.  Also still edible even after they’re technically spoiled, though a lot of the zing is gone.


Pairs Well With...

VODKA & 7-UP.

Totally clear, but tasty enough.

“Thank you for the flowers.”


Will Atenton (Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace) is a very happy man.  He’s just quit his job working as an editor at a publishing house.  Along with a generous severance package, he’s also got himself a deal to work on his very own novel while he kicks back at his brand new suburban home with his family.  Sure, the house is something of a fixer, but his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy), is quite handy with a paintbrush, and is very keen on doing the décor herself.

At first, things seem just as blissful as Will had hoped they would be, but then they take something of a sinister turn.  There’s a strange man spying on the house from the shadows at night, and when Will discovers that a “pack of teenagers” has broken into his basement, he learns from them the awful truth about the history of his new home.  It seems that there were some murders five years ago…

Dream House is the latest in a long line of Hollywood movies that begs for a rule to be put in place saying that the marketing department doesn’t get to see or sample from anything beyond the First Act.  Were I the Director of this film, after one look at the trailer, I’d have seriously considered calling the guy who spliced it together and inviting him to take a very long walk off a very short pier.  Why?  Because the twist that Dream House spends the first sixty percent or so of its runtime building up to is blown by the trailer.  Sure, some people who have seen one or two other specific movies and have learned to pick up on certain cues can be expected to have figured it out on their own without any help, and that’s fine.  But for the marketing department to remove all doubt?  That’s inexcusable.  (Hold that thought!)

This is a shame, really, because looking at the movie by itself without the trailer, Dream House actually does a pretty good job with the pacing and atmosphere of the buildup to said twist.  Dream House plays like good, old school suspense thrillers used to play: slowly.  Everything starts out not only innocuous, but rather idyllic.  The audience is given the chance to meet the central players and really get to know them, so that when the nasty stuff hits the fan, the audience will actually care.  The transfer from this idyllic beginning to nasty stuff being revealed is a subtle one, accomplished not simply by a series of things going “bump”, but by an overall atmosphere of tension.  It’s intangible, but it’s very much there.  Dream House does an excellent job of pacing things just right and ramping up the creep factor so well that when you as an audience member finally know for sure what’s wrong in the world of the story, you realize that you’ve felt what was wrong for quite a while already.  Not only does it succeed at doing this once – with the reveal of the murders – but then goes on to do it again two more times.  Atmospherically, there are no complaints to be had here.

 With that said, though, it’s not just the folks who spliced the trailer threatening to spoil all of this hard work.  There’s still another big reveal to be made afterward, but thanks to a completely unnecessary thirty second scene very early in the film and one line of dialogue so out of place that it jumps right out at the audience when spoken, that reveal, too, has a better than nine in ten chance of having been spoiled.  Telegraphy may have helped turn Manifest Destiny into reality, but it’s never a good thing in a suspense thriller.

Incredibly, though, even if you know everything that’s coming in Dream House – even if you knew the twist and guessed the ending before your drink started to get warm – it still doesn’t manage to depth charge the overall enjoyability of the movie.  A lot of this has to do with the aforementioned atmospherics provided by what looks to be Jim Sheridan’s solid direction.  What’s interesting about that is the fact that Sheridan and the studio had some differences, apparently (uh-oh), and Sheridan lost control by the end.  (I’m just going to guess that he and the marketing department weren’t on great terms anyway when that trailer got spliced, so who knows?  Maybe he did make the call I suggested above.)  This is usually a disastrous kiss of death for a movie (Babylon AD, anyone?), so given the fact that the worst overall complaint here involves too much telegraphy, things could certainly have been a whole lot worse.

Much of the reason that they aren’t comes from solid performances by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, who also apparently ended up being unhappy with the final film, but happy enough with each other that they got married in June. For much of the world outside of the UK, James Bond was the first real taste anyone got of Daniel Craig’s work, but everything he’s done while waiting for more Bond films to be made has shown that he is definitely not a one trick pony.  We’ve all had ample opportunity to see Craig as the badass professional and the stone cold killer, but here you see Daniel Craig in the role of a family man, and he plays it perfectly.  When one of the little girls calls for Daddy, Daniel Craig is Daddy, as opposed to being James Bond in different clothes.  (That’s a feat Roger Moore was never able to pull off.)  As Will goes through the process of learning, denying, and then coming to terms with the truth of things, that entire range of emotions plays across Craig’s face, down to the smallest of quivers.  The chemistry he has with Rachel Weisz pours through the screen; their characters look very much like a real couple in love (an extreme rarity in movies, actually), and hey!  Whaddaya know!

Weisz brings more than chemistry with her costar to the screen, of course; she’s got her own acting challenges to face, and does so beautifully.  In a role that would have been easy to play toward the oblivious side, Weisz instead brings a welcome complexity that pays dividends the further things progress.  The psychological burdens being borne by the character of Will are plainly presented for all the audience to see, full on, but despite having far less front and center attention, Weisz’s Libby bears the same burdens.  Through her performance, Wesiz makes sure that even though her character is required to be more stoic and in greater denial, the audience can see the conflict that is there.

However Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz may feel about the final overall film, they certainly should have no complaints with their own work, or how it comes to be presented when all is said and done.

For it is their strength, and the intangibles of the film’s atmospherics, that make Dream House worth watching even if you’ve had most of if not the entire movie spoiled for you beforehand.

There is one mystery, though, that manages to remain unspoiled.  Not one of the three top-billed members of the cast – Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts – is from the United States.  And yet, only Daniel Craig is allowed to retain his real accent, while the two ladies Americanize theirs.  Why is that?

Bottom line, thanks to a marketing department that apparently likes to read books last-page-first and a couple pieces of inexplicable telegraphy early on in the movie, Dream House is likely to have every one of the twists that are supposed to make it a good suspense thriller spoiled.  However, unlike most movies wherein the Director and cast step away from the final product, Dream House doesn’t turn out to be a total disaster even with the spoilers, and remains worth watching.  With that said, though, once it leaves theatres, it’s still much closer to “rent” than “own.”

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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