The dream house in “Dream House” is hardly a dream house. It’s actually pretty mediocre. A two-story cottage tucked in the sleepy snow of New England suburbs, filled with secret histories and haunted antechambers — it’s the stuff of Thomas Kinkade’s nightmares.
But Will (Daniel Craig) and Libby (Rachel Weisz) decide to give it a go anyway. He quits his job (she doesn’t have one). They move their two precious little daughters out of the city and into their new dream house.
From the get-go, we see Will and Libby very much in love. They can’t stop kissing each other. So we know that something very bad is going to happen that will drive these two apart. He is a writer, and we know this because she nicknames him “Shakespeare” when she brings him coffee in his study.
I should preface everything I am about to say with a big, fat, neon sign that says Spoiler Alert, but since this is one of the most painfully bad movie-going experiences in recent memory, I won’t bother. Plus, if you’ve seen the spoiler-rific trailer, you understand (or are meant to anyway) much of what you need to know about this movie, save a few zingers in the last act that are more like plot hiccups than twists.
As it turns out, the dream house was host to a murder five years ago. Two little girls and their mother were killed, allegedly by the father who now lives in an institution.
If things are sounding a bit like “The Shining” to you — ding ding ding! “Dream House” also shares that 1980 masterpiece’s fixation on hallways, wallpapers and roving cameras. But I am not equating the two movies whatsoever. Both have an eerie central location haunted by a past murder, but “Dream House” has little to do with horror whatsoever. But it certainly is horrible.
We soon discover that Will is the killer daddy. He murdered Libby and the two girls five years ago, but somehow has managed to block it out, black it out and construct an entire fiction about his life in his head. His real name is Peter Ward but he changed it to Will Atenton, a name pulled from his psych ward wrist band (W111 8-10-10).
How we get all this information is all arbitrary. The film just keeps piling on the ridiculousness. A sullen neighbor played by Naomi Watts (starting to look like she has had some of the ole nip-tuck, nip-tuck) provides Will with some enlightening information regarding the murders, and that he might not actually have committed them at all. Or something.
Beginning to end, “Dream House” is complete dreck. Hampered by an inane screenplay, lazy performances and cheap theatrics, it presents itself as a horror film and psychological thriller but it offers no scares, no thrills, no mindfucks of any kind. Then again, this a film whose target audience (in the PG-13 camp) don’t have any brain cells anyway.
Director Jim Sheridan, the distinguished filmmaker behind “In America” and “My Left Foot” and all other movies starring Daniel Day-Lewis, probably had little creative control over the film. Studios are aggressively marketing this as a horror movie, but there is absolutely nothing scary here except the fact that the 90-minute running time feels too long. It seems this film is made for, and by, idiots. Just like Sheridan’s last film, the unfortunate “Brothers,” in 2009.
Is this a career killer for Craig, Weisz and Watts? Probably not. “Dream House” feels more like their secret little side project that slipped through the cracks than anything else. But shame on them. Their performances are all so wooden, and I’m surprised because they are some of the best actors in the business. But “Dream House” is just that: business. If we learn anything from this movie, it’s to be a little more skeptical before we eagerly jump in line to drink the Kool-Aid.
Ryan Lattanzio is the lead film critic.