October 06, 2011

A deeper look into "Dream House"

Richard takes a deeper look into "Dream House" specifically the flaws that kept a good movie from greatness. WARNING: Clicking "Read More" contains just about every spoiler in the film. Reader beware!

Those of you that have seen the film know that Will Atenton is Peter Ward. Five years before the start of the film Daniel Craig's character witnessed the shooting death's of his wife and daughters before being accidentally shot in the head as he struggled with the killer by his wife. I have no problem with this. I personally think that the build up would have paid off more had HE been the one to kill his wife and daughters, but that would be very hard to pull off in American cinema. The biggest problem is how they got there.

So much of the film is dedicated to showing how much Will loves his family. How happy they are. I understand what Jim Sheridan and David Loucka were trying to accomplish, but it resulted in the film tragically underusing Naomi Watts as the neighbor Ann, Marton Csokas as Ann's ex-husband, Jack and Elias Koteas as Jack's hired killer Boyce.

There was an entire subplot only hinted at until the climax of the movie between Ann and Jack. After what I assume was a very nasty divorce Jack is murderously angry at Ann over the fact that he lost the house and his money and has to share custody of their daughter with Ann. Somewhere jumbled in the mix is the fact that Jack is having money problems and Ann has (what I am assuming) a large life insurance policy. The only reason the audience is even aware of this is because of an out of place scene near the beginning of the film that comes from left field, and after the reveal where we learn Jack hired Boyce to kill his wife, but screwed up and killed the Ward family instead.

That had the potential to be a wonderful story arc. Jack could be wracked with guilt over the screw-up. If not Jack then Boyce. Instead we have two massively underdeveloped sociopaths that only regret the wrong house being targeted.

On that note I find it hard to believe that Jack hired a man to kill his wife without showing a picture of her (No one can confuse Rachel Weisz with Naomi Watts) or even giving an address to Boyce. Instead the plot of the movie hinges on the fact that Boyce hit the third house on the left instead of the right.

Moving past Jack and Boyce we come to Ann. Ann was Libby's best friend. Ann and the Wards are shown together in pictures drinking, laughing and having fun. Trish and Dee Dee are implied to be close childhood friends of Ann's daughter Chloe. Ann was even the only person to come visit Peter Ward/Will Atenton in the mental home. So why is she so under developed. The few times she is on screen there is a wonderful chemistry between Ann and Will. It might not be romantic, but the friendship she wants to share with Will is painful to watch. Why waist that and instead focus on another scene where Will runs around the yard chasing shadows and ghosts.

That brings me to the car. Near the middle of the film a red Buick peels out in the show in front of the Ward/Atenton house. Will jumps in front of it and man and car play an awkward game of chicken. No one is hurt. The car is never seen from again and the view never finds out who was in it. The scene added nothing to the film other than reinforcing the notion that there are problems with the house. The director wasted his time on this instead of flushing out other characters.

In the beginning of the film the Real Estate agent that sold Will Atenton his dream house before the start of the movie drives Will to the house. Once the reveal happens this creates a continuity problem. Will was living a fantasy in his head where his family was still alive. His doctors and other patients at the mental home became Co-workers and bosses. They explain that once he realizes he went insane. Yet what mental worker would willingly drop a delusional man that may have murdered his family back at the crime scene which happens to also be condemned?

The last rant is the amnesia/fake life itself. No one knows why Peter created will. The only theory is that watching his wife and children die pushed him over the edge and he created a new persona to escape the guilt. Not once did anyone think to themselves, "Why is Peter crazy? Oh yeah. HE WAS SHOT IN THE FUCKING HEAD!" This film embraces so many tropes already. Amnesia, the I didn't kill my wife, countless horror tropes of characters running off when they should stay inside, yet the one they avoid is the one that would close one of the biggest plot holes.

In closing this movie could have been great. There were places where they could have played with flashbacks and only revealed they were flashbacks at the end. They could have made at least one of the villains sympathetic instead of evil caricature tropes. They could have made Ann have a flaw or two which would explain why Jack hated her so much. Hell, they could have made Peter/Will the killer and have the douchebag ex-husband save Ann and Chloe from the crazy homicidal protagonist instead of vice versa. And the ending. After Jack and Boyce kill each other as Peter's dream home burns to the ground we cut to Peter looking through a bookstore window at the International bestseller "Dream house." From the word GO Peter/Will is made out to be an aspiring writer. We know he has been working on a manuscript and from the composition tablets with "Dream House" scribbled in them we know the idea is sloshing around in his head. The ending could have been great. Did he write about his experiences or was the entire thing in his head and we lived out his writing process. The ending so so beautifully open and potentially meta. The only flaw was that the movie could not get me to care enough to wonder.

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"Dream House" fails to live up to the dream (2.5/5)

Every few years or so a psychological thriller changes the landscape of the game. "The Usual Suspects" "The Sixth Sense" "Primal Fear" This is not one of those movies.

Don't get me wrong. Jim Sterling's thriller "Dream House" is not a bad movie. It could just be so much more.

Daniel Craig stars as Will Atenton, a supposed hotshot editor who quits his job and moves into his "dream house" to be closer with his wife, Libby (The Amazing Rachel Weisz) and daughters Trish and Dee Dee. Everything seems peaceful and overly tranquil until they start seeing shadows in the windows and Will finds a cult of teenagers worshiping in his basement. It's then that he finds out his dream home is the site of a brutal killing spree from five years ago, where Peter Ward went crazy and killed his wife and two daughters before being shot in the head by his wife. As Will starts to uncover more about the crime scene he starts to suspect that his new neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) knows more about the case than she lets on.

The acting is solid in parts and wooden in others. I know Craig has the acting chops to carry a movie like this but seemed to be disinterested some of the time. This is never more prominent than times of great stress to the characters. When they fear the recently released from a mental home Peter ward is outside their house Weisz understandably seems panicked and scared, while Craig seems to almost roll his eyes and command her to, "just go inside."

Besides some wooden acting the film suffered from some serious plot holes. When the reveal of the film happens, earlier characters that could contradict the twist found their dream homes in "mandyville" and there are entire scenes that add nothing to the overall story.

The greatest sin in my eyes lays with the use of the antagonists in the film. Without giving away too much (that comes in my next post) I can only say that I am hard pressed to find an antagonist so forced upon the audience without plot, story or character development as I am in Dream House.

Still, it was a good time if only a bit mindless. I can still see what the film COULD have been in my head though, which makes this average film hurt worse than a truly horrible one.


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Richard is back

Thousands of years ago Richard Posted on ThreeGeek.Today I have come... to stay?

I don't know about The Sherm and Thaddo, but I have "that writtin' bug" creeping back into my life so you should see some more updates, at least for the time being. Later today should be the first new content in over a year.

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