Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2011

Dream House

Housing derivative

'Dream House' is a massive waste of time and talent

Dream House
Universal Pictures
Director: Jim Sheridan
Screenplay: David Loucka
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marton Csokas, Taylor Geare, Claire Geare and Elias Koteas
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 32 minutes
Opened September 30, 2011
(out of four)

So here we are again, discussing a film in which the man of the house is insane, beset by nightmares and hallucinations, trying to figure out what's real and what isn't. Having just seen the magnificent Take Shelter and the dreadful Dream House, I'm struck by how often we see this very scenario play out.

Dream House is a more specific twist on the crazy patriarch archetype - it's of the haunted house variety. You know, The Shining/Amityville territory. The most curious thing about this one in particular is that it's helmed by Jim Sheridan, the respected Irish filmmaker behind My Left Foot, In America, In the Name of the Father and The Boxer.

Sheridan's career in the eight intervening years since his highly personal, multi-Oscar-nominated In America has been a peculiar one, from the 50 Cent vehicle Get Rich or Die Tryin' to the uninspired carbon copy remake of Susanne Bier's Brothers, and now this. A bottom-of-the-barrel haunted house drama.

Remember a few years back when Mike Figgis, of all people, directed Cold Creek Manor? Yeah, this is kind of like that. In fact, maybe "directing a haunted house movie" should replace "jumping the shark." Of course, no one but Sheridan can know whether this is really the kind of thing he was driven to artistically, or whether he simply couldn't get other projects off the ground, financially or otherwise. And in his defense, it's been widely reported that the film was taken away from him at some point - which, in turn, makes me wonder why he didn't take his name off the picture altogether. Judging from the final result, it would have been a good career move.

Unfortunately, I can't discuss many of the film's problems, as they're based on late revelations and obligatory twists and turns. What I can say is that, even removing the idiocy of the story's internal logic from the equation, the reveals are dealt with in such clumsy fashion, I was only left to wonder how much of the third act was the result of last-minute reshoots.

I'll get you all up to speed on the first half of the movie, all of which is revealed in the trailer, so it should be fair game. (If you haven't seen the trailer and want to go in completely blind, and for some reason waste your money on this, read no further.) Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) is a loving husband with a loving wife (Rachel Weisz) and two loving kids (Taylor Geare and Claire Geare). They live in a loving house in a loving neighborhood, in a loving New England town.

Also, the house's former residents were all brutally murdered by Daddy, whose name was Peter Ward and is now in a mental institution.

But anyway, strange things seem to be afoot in the new home - people lurking outside the window, neighbors giving Will strange and suspicious glances, a bunch of Goth teenagers hiding out in the cellar lighting candles. That sort of thing. So Will decides to investigate this "Peter Ward" fella, and it turns out that Will, in fact, is Peter Ward, his whole family and beautiful home are imaginary, and he's manufactured a new identity/back story as a result of some unexplained psychosis.

Woulda been nice for the kindly woman across the street, played by Naomi Watts, to mention something about that, seeing as how he's been talking to his imaginary family and referring to himself as "Will Atenton" in public and all. (By the way, the way he settled on the name "Will Atenton" is a gut-buster.)

Psychological thrillers generally rely on twists to some degree, which is fine. But many of them, even the bad ones, seem to have an actual concept behind those twists. That's not the case in Dream House. The town believes Peter Ward killed his family, Peter/Will believes he's innocent, and then at the end we find out the dumb story of what actually happened. It makes little sense, but even more egregious is how ineptly the whole climax is staged - both in its explanation of the past mystery and its conclusion of the present-day story. When all is said and done, Dream House is a misfire of inexplicable proportions.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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