Dream House ✮1/2
National Lampoon’s Spooky Place
by Glenn Lovell
What does a big deal movie star do to fill his time ‒ and already bulging wallet ‒ between stints in a hugely profitable franchise and the fall’s most anticipated thriller? That’s the enviable dilemma Daniel Craig faces as he preps “James Bond 23” and awaits the release of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Craig’s solution: tread water for a few months in negligible entertainments like “Cowboys & Aliens” and this week’s “Dream House,” not to be confused with the grisly Hong Kong import “Dream Home” (covered in our Midnight Spookers section).
In “Dream House,” Craig, the personification of droopy-eyed insouciance, plays Will Atenton, who quits his job at a publishing firm to move into a cozy two-story colonial in the ’burbs. He tells co-workers that he wants to work on that long-gestating novel and spend quality time with wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two children.
The Atentons immediately strike us as the densest family this side of the Griswolds in those “National Lampoon” farces. We’re asked to believe that they didn’t know that their dream home, five years ago, was the site of a family massacre. The father, Peter Ward ‒ not to be confused with Ward Cleaver ‒ was the suspected killer. But after a stint in the local loony bin he’s free again … and may be the ominous figure now lurking in the woods.
Libby: “I knew we shouldn’t have moved out of the city.” Will, only half joking: “We’ll hire a priest … feng shui the place.”
Neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) and the local police are zero help. When Will comes a-knocking, they just stare back at him, as if he’s nuts for signing the deed without doing a Google search.
“Dream Home” is one of those neither/nor concoctions that usually results when a non-genre director goes slumming. In this instance we have Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father”) treading clumsily into “The Shining”/”Shudder Island” territory. His first fright film, when not outright hilarious, is neither chilling nor compelling. The infamous “slaughter house,” for all its still-unplugged (!) bullet holes, is not especially spooky, and Sheridan’s lethargic pacing only calls attention to this fact.
In one sequence, Will awakes to a downstairs ruckus and, while investigating, bumps into a club of teen Goths conducting a Peter Ward seance in the basement. Clueless doesn’t begin to describe this guy. Heaven help him if he had a roach infestation problem.
Of course nothing is as it seems. Creaky twists and turns and the big “A-ha!” moment await. But chances are you will have bailed before they arrive. Weisz and Watts appear pleasantly nonchalant in undernourished roles, but Craig, struggling with the doting dad, couldn’t be glummer or more self-conscious. His pained expression says it all: “Yeah, I know ‒ I’m as believable as a touchy-feely type as Freddy Krueger.”
DREAM HOUSE ✮1/2 With Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts. Directed by Jim Sheridan; scripted by David Loucka. 92 min. PG-13 (for adult situations, violence)