Film Review: Dream House

(Written for Lost In The Multiplex and published in Issue 4 of In Retrospect)

Dream House, directed by Jim Sheridan, follows publisher Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) who quits work to move his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two daughters into their dream home. The family soon discover, however, that their seemingly idyllic house was once the murder scene of a mother and her daughters, and that the crime was supposedly committed by the father who is now being held at a psychiatric hospital in town. Will begins to investigate into the murder himself when strange things start happening around him, but whilst most seem to be keeping what they know to themselves, he finds a lead in neighbour Ann (Naomi Watts) and her ex-husband Jack (Marton Csokas).

Dream House has the makings of a horror film, which is one of the main reasons it is interesting. When a cinematic family move into a new house and that the previous tenants were murdered, it’s only too easy to presume that either one of the children will become possessed or that the house is built on an ancient burial ground. Beginning just as The Amityville Horror did, the film could have easily concluded in the same way. Thankfully, it doesn’t, and the film takes another road in a twist of genre. Dream House is a thriller, and whilst it has an essence of ghosts and creaky stairways, it only plays on such clichéd scares to build itself up.

The outcome of the film is a lot better thought out than any typical horror has to offer, and when you come to terms with the truth, you can see how everything links together from the film’s rich texture and well-written plot. Despite sometimes having a weak script, Dream House has an ever-shifting plot and this is what keeps you engaged. With a couple of incredible twists and a really good cast backing the story up, Dream House is more of a successful drama than anything else; whilst sometimes episodic, it is always intriguing and this is why the combination of genres works.

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are a brilliant leading couple with an obvious chemistry between them on show throughout. This relationship is really worth mentioning, even more so when the family is considered as a whole. The two daughters (Claire and Taylor Geare) put on a brilliant performance for their age too. It’s often that a young child’s performance in a horror film is cringy, but the fact that the two girls are sisters in real life really helps. These four actors together give the film strength, giving a believable performance that provokes emotion when needed.

For some reason, however, Dream House has received an overall bad review from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting an average rating of 3.7 out of 10. These bad criticisms may reflect on the news that director Sheridan supposedly fell out with the production team over the shape of the script and production of the film. He and the cast disliked the final cut of the film so much that they refused to do any press for it, and the film wasn’t screened for critics in advance either. Whilst it’s occasionally easy to see that Sheridan lost some control of his directorial reigns, overall I felt that his aims shone through and that film managed to pull itself off.

The worst part about the film’s production is that trailer gives away the whole story line, including the film’s twist. You can watch the trailer below, but if you plan on seeing this film I would warn you not to watch it or read anything else about it. Dream House is a very good film, but if you know the twists beforehand it will not have the same effect. I would highly recommend it, so let that be the only encouragement you need.

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