Retro Review: DREAM HOUSE (2011){0}

It may have sounded like a good idea on paper (how else could it attract such talent?), but the recent haunted house thriller Dream House is saddled with bland, outdated concepts, overtly predictable”surprises,” dead-eyed acting performances from generally reliable players, and a relentless intent on wedging as many hoary old cliches as possible into the dreary 92-minute frame. What must have been an easy payday for Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, and directorJim Sheridan hits the screen with all the freshness and originality as a PBS potboiler of the week.

Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) has just resigned from a cushy publishing job and is planning to help his wife (Weisz) and two little daughters spruce up a creepy old house that used to belong to his (now-dead) in-laws. Of course the house offers creepy noises, mysterious visions, a strange (but very hot) lady across the street, and a bunch of nooks and crannies for the little girls to get lost within. (I just described the first hour of the film.) Eventually we’re offered a bizarre plot contortion that might have been more effective had it not been divulged in the trailers, and then we’re off on a truly amateurish third act that comes packed with belabored exposition, obvious flashbacks, and more clunky ADR than the complete works of Brett Ratner.

The actors do what they can with such tiresome material, but are consistently undone by David Loucka’s patently generic screenplay and a director who has obviously done great films in the past — but is on board here just to earn a quick paycheck. None of the depth of character that is found in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot or In America manages to seep through the cracks of this aggressively banal hodge-podge of limp eeriness and outrageously silly plot turns. (Yes, the main character’s name is a code, and wait till you hear what it means!)

Long-delayed, instantly forgettable, and barely worthy of a footnote on the resumes of the talents involved (not even character actor extraordinaire Elias Koteas can help this film), Dream House feels like the late-arriving and (hopefully) final wheeze of the J-horror-inspired domestic thrillers that ran rampant a few years back. Aside from the obvious appeal of sitting down and staring at Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and/or Naomi Watts for 92 minutes, there’s nothing in Dream House you haven’t already seen before — fifteen times, with much more energy, craft, and effort. Even overlooking the third act, which all but reeks of quickie reshoots (or plain old bad editing), this is one flat, airy, redundant, and unoriginal take on a story we already have more than enough of at the moment.