‘Dream House’ really a nightmare

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

This one’s an old story.

No, I’m not talking about the story of “Dream House.” I’m talking about the story behind it.

It’s a story of a meddling studio, an angry director and a damaged film. Amidst minor controversy over Universal Pictures’ choice to not screen “Dream House” for critics prior to its release —a move many consider an ominous indication of a film’s quality, or lack thereof — as well as accusations from frustrated film buffs that the movie’s trailer blatantly gives away key plot twists, rumors have swirled in cineaste circles that director Jim Sheridan was miffed over supposed studio interference, causing him to largely disown the film.

Surprisingly, “Dream House” isn’t as bad as the negative buzz would have you believe. Oh, it’s bad alright. But not appallingly so.

Dream House” gives us Will (Daniel Craig) and Libby (Rachel Weisz), a happily married couple leaving behind the hustle ‘n’ bustle of the city for a quiet life in snow-kissed suburbia. Their new home seems like the perfect place to raise their two young daughters, except for this one nagging thing about the place having been the scene of a horrific massacre five years earlier.

Aside from bringing down the property value, the house’s blood-soaked history attaches an aura of mystery and menace to its new inhabitants, causing the locals to treat them with hesitancy and hostility. Neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) knows why, but her lips are sealed.

Soon, Will becomes determined to uncover the secrets of the house’s former owner. It’s an investigation that will reveal Will’s own deeply buried connections to the building’s grim past, and ultimately bring his whole world burning down around him.

As egregious a sin as “Dream House’s” spoiler-spittin’ trailer was, Universal’s decision to market the film as an old-fashioned ghost story, when it’s nothing of the sort, is arguably worse. More a psychological thriller, the film’s titular house is haunted not by spirits, but by memories and illusions. Will’s search for answers quickly becomes a desperate struggle to reclaim reality itself.

Unfortunately, “Dream House” suffers from something of a Frankenstein complex. It feels like two different movies stitched together awkwardly, leaving behind a malformed oddity, itself unsure of what it’s even supposed to be. Audiences are likely to feel thrown when what started as a languid murder mystery abruptly morphs into a shaky, surrealist psychodrama.

As much as I appreciate the honest, unconventional efforts to explore new territory, the results are hardly memorable. On the contrary, they tend to be surprisingly predictable and even cliché. Worse, the movie is plagued by lingering questions, absurd contrivances, gaping plot holes and undercooked characters. The acting is solid and the direction top-notch, but the rest of the bare essentials are left to languish. How can one hope to build a sturdy structure without the basic materials?

Sometimes poignant, sometimes laughable, the film is a flawed, uneven experiment of wasted potential. Simply put, this “Dream House” is a fixer-upper.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5