‘Dream House’ Not Really A Nightmare

What in the hell is the purpose of film trailers? Ideally, they should show us just enough about upcoming movies to entice us into wanting to see them. What they actually do, however, is reveal so much about the films that when we go to the theater, there are no surprises. For example, the trailers advertising comedies often contain the funniest scenes in the movies.

That’s bad enough, but the people who made the trailers for “Dream House,” the new thriller starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts, have reached a new low. Just about midway through the film, a huge twist occurs, and the damn thing is in the trailers for the film as well. Thus, any element of surprise for the movie is destroyed when you watch the stupid trailer.

Throughout the history cinema, Hollywood has churned out a veritable plethora of haunted-house movies. As you would expect, some of them have been good, and some of them have been terrible. “Dream House” belongs somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Although it has some things to recommend it, namely good acting, the plot is so disjointed in places that it’s a bit hard to follow.

As “Dream House” begins, we meet Will Atenton (Craig) a very popular and successful New York publisher who has decided to quit his job and move to a new house he has just purchased in New England to spend more time with his wife, Libby (Weisz), and their two young daughters, Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (Claire Geare).

Now if you have ever watched a haunted-house movie, you know how these things develop. Will and his family move into their new house, and they are blissfully happy. Dad plays with his daughters, who squeal with delight as he chases them around the house, and Mom looks on lovingly. And then some strange things begin to happen.

Dee Dee becomes very frightened when she thinks she sees a man looking in the window. Then one evening Will thinks he hears a noise in the basement, and when he investigates, he finds some teenagers who have sneaked in and are conducting some kind of a strange ritual.

Will decides to do some investigating about the house and learns that man who owned it previously killed his wife and two daughters and was subsequently committed to a local mental hospital. The mystery about the place deepens when Will meets Ann (Watts), his neighbor from across the street. She obviously knows something about the events that transpired in the house, but she is reluctant to talk about them.

With his curiosity now fully aroused, Will continues to dig into the history of the house, and this leads him to the shocking truth that lies at the heart of the movie. Of course if you watched the trailer, the truth comes as no stunner because you already know what it is. I refuse to divulge it here, however, but I will tell you that the film’s big secret is a bit muddled, and this is one of its main weaknesses.

If you walk into the theater expecting this movie to scare you half to death, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Although it attempts to deliver some knock-you-out-of-your-seat moments, they are not particularly effective, and neither is the film’s overall aura of mystery unless markings on walls and secret rooms frighten you. They don’t do much for me.

The main thing the film has going for it is some fine acting on the parts of Craig, Weisz, and Watts. Craig is consistently believable in the role of the nonplussed Will, and he manages to maintain an expression that’s a combination of confusion and apprehension throughout the movie. In the film’s production notes, Craig offered some interesting insight into the story and his character.

“I play a happy husband who lives in a dream house with his wife and their two children, and suddenly this other story starts to happen. They find out there’s been a murder in the house. With the previous occupants, the wife and children were murdered, and this story begins to creep into their everyday life. It’s almost like they are being haunted by the house.

“If you happen to believe in ghosts then, yes, this is a ghost story. If you don’t believe in ghosts, then it’s something that the mind created, which is just as wonderful. We didn’t want to push it either way. We wanted to leave it up to the viewer to decide. It’s very tricky to do. We did a lot of the film in chronological order and shot the beginning of the movie very early on. The heavier stuff came toward the end. It was very tough emotionally, but as an actor, very satisfying.”

Complementing Craig’s performance nicely are both Weisz and Watts. The former imbues Will’s wife with just the right amount of fear and confusion, and Watts portrayal of Ann is intriguingly mysterious. Of course, Watts is no stranger to the horror genre because she was the star of “The Ring,” a film that I thought was really disturbingly terrifying.

“Dream House” also boasts some stellar camera work, but for me the film just didn’t deliver enough shock value to make it an effective thriller. Also, the main premise behind the movie is something that has been done some many times that it has almost become a cliché. Therefore, the film earns a final score of five.

Now if you like the haunted-house genre, you should check out “American Horror Story,” the new television series starring Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton. It airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, and unlike “Dream House,” this show will definitely succeed in giving you plenty of bad dreams.

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