Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dream House: a haunted man

Parents: do you hate your children? You do? Then why don't you take them with you to see "Dream House." They'll just love the first two-thirds of the movie in which a man interacts with the ghosts of his wife and daughters whom he may or may not have brutally murdered.

Seriously. Don't do this. Don't be the jackass dad who sat a few rows in front of me with his eight- and six-year-old daughters.

Now that my bad parent rant is out of my system, let's talk about "Dream House."

The first twist of the movie is given away in the trailer, so I'm not spoiling anything for you by telling you that Daniel Craig plays Will/Peter, a man who sees the family that he may or may not have murdered. It takes him a while to realize who he is (and why everyone in town stares at him like he's a leper) and the development of that realization is interesting to watch. Once he does accept who he is, things pick up and Will/Peter has to tell his dead wife (Rachel Weisz) that she's dead.

And then there's the kids. two cute little girls who we can guess for the whole movie are already dead. Children in peril, especially from a parental figure, always bugs me (which is why I'm still pissed off at that father who brought his own daughters to the movie).

The good news is that it all works out in the end. There's some real emotion between Craig and Weisz (who ended up getting married after filming this movie). There are also a couple of moments when you have "real" people experiencing their grief over the family -- their neighbors-- who were snatched away by tragedy.

What there isn't, is scares. There's great tension between Will/Peter's two realities and there are moments set up for good jump scares that never come. Most of the supporting cast, including Naomi Watts, do their job, but don't add anything.

What bothers me the most about the film, however, is that it feels like a screenwriter's class assignment. Screenwriting 101: Imitate your favorite writer.

In this case, screenwriter David Loucka's favorite writer is Uncle Stevie. Yep, "Dream House" has bad Stephen King rip-off written all over it. (Which must mean it's a Dean Koontz book. I kid, I kid.) Will/Peter is a big city editor who leaves his job for a life at the country home and time to spend with his family and writing the great American novel with a British accent. Things aren't what they seem to be, yadda yadda yadda. Second big twist (no, I'm not telling) in the last 20 minutes and fade out to "some time later."

The good news is that Loucka and director Jim Sheridan (he did "The Boxer," "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father," which leads me to wonder if he tried to get Daniel Day-Lewis into this movie) know their dance steps. "Dream House" isn't great, but it's not that bad. In a way, that makes it worse. Maybe it could have been amazing. On the other hand, it could have turned out like some direct-to-video knock-off of a more successful film.

This is the third -- as far as I can remember -- haunted house movie released so far in 2011. If I had to rank them (and I will, otherwise I wouldn't bring it up), I would place "Dream House" somewhat above "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" and below "Insidious." "Dream House" delivers on exactly what it promises: a decent haunted house movie with fairly good actors. "Insidious" beat my expectations and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" didn't quite reach them, so "Dream House" is right in the middle. (Here's hoping "Paranormal Activity 3" blows them all out of the water.)

Threat level: YELLOW. It's not quite good enough for an orange rating and I don't have anything else between orange and yellow. Sorry.

"Dream House" is rated PG-13 and stars Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts. David Loucka wrote the screenplay directed by Jim Sheridan.

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