Not Your Grandmother’s Haunted House

Get it? Because grandmothers always have haunted house stories? No? Just my family? Ok then.

Dream House is a 2011 horror/psychological thriller starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, and a bunch of other people who I don’t recognize but may or may not have seen in other things without knowing. To be honest, Craig is the only actor in the movie I have conscious memory of seeing in anything else. The film has a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 36% Audience Score; 5.9/10 on IMDB; and 35% Metascore. So it’s not a very highly regarded film, but it was recommended to me by a friend, and since I generally don’t agree with critics anyway, I watched it. I’m going to try to write this review as best I can without spoiling anything, but I’ll warn you now that you might still find things you could consider spoilers, so be warned now!

Thankfully the creepy kids trope didn't show up
Thankfully the creepy kids trope didn’t show up.

We’re introduced to Will Atenton, played by Daniel Craig, aka James Blonde, as he’s leaving his boring, dead end editing job to live in the suburbs/country with his wife and kids while writing his novel. Everyone is happy to see him go — not in a mean way, in a “hey good for you, good luck” way. We don’t really learn anything about him. As far as introductions go, I’d hardly consider it an introduction to him. The scene is important, mind you, but that’s all I can say.

We really get to know him when he arrives home. His arrival is also the introduction to his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his children, Trish and Dee Dee (Taylor and Claire Geare, respectively; nice touch getting actual siblings). He’s a loving husband and father, and Craig plays the role very well, actually. Having only seen him in action in the Bond movies and in Cowboys & Aliens, it’s refreshing to see him play a role like this. He’s playful and really quite believable. Some of this is probably due to the fact that he has a daughter, now 23, from his first marriage. Some of it is probably also due to the fact that he and Weisz were married shortly before the film was released, having met on the set. Weisz also has a son, now 9, from her engagement to Darren Aronofsky, so I would guess that informed her performance as well. The scripting is a bit awkward, especially in some of the couple’s more tender moments, but I didn’t find it unbearably so; I rather thought it mirrored real life more closely than most films do. After all, real interactions are seldom picture-perfect and are usually more awkward than they are full of smoothly flowing, original dialogue. Given the script they had to work with, both actors performed remarkably well. It’s hard to make awkward dialogue sound reasonable.

I couldn’t tell at first if Craig was trying to hide his accent or not, but I decided that he wasn’t (at least that’s my belief) because his lines often contained distinctly British turns of phrase — such as “messing about,” whereas most Americans would probably say “messing around,” if they’re being polite, or “screwing around,” if they’re being less polite.

There’s very little I can tell you about the story from this point on without ruining anything. Despite what critics claimed about it being slow, I found it to be quite fast-paced. It’s only an hour and a half long, and while it does feel longer than that, I didn’t feel that was because the plot was dragging, but because I was engrossed in it.

The most basic thing I can tell you about the plot is that the Atenton family has moved into a house where a murder was committed and now they might be having some issues with it. Take that as you will, I think it’s more than vague enough to obscure any plot details that might clue you in to anything.

I’ll admit that the first half of the movie was a bit beholden to typical horror tropes and clichés. I actually kept a list while I was watching, which I’ll post at the end because it might have minor spoilers. I counted 24 instances of tropes or clichés of 13 different kinds. Others might agree or disagree with the instances I counted, and might come up with different numbers or notice others that I missed. I don’t claim to be an expert. But even though there were so many instances of clichés, I didn’t feel bogged down by them, the way you might when you watch, say, an M. Night Shyamalan film.

My talent is that I can make overused tropes even more overused.

Ultimately, while there was one twist which I half-predicted, there’s a lot to enjoy about this movie. I thought it was quite well done and it certainly had me interested the whole way through. The only real thing I could think of for critics to complain about was that it was a bit derivative of other work — one specific example comes to mind, but even making the comparison would be a spoiler. The only real complaint I have was that the very ending seems a bit abrupt, like “oh, we resolved the main plot, no need for a full wrap-up, here’s a few seconds and then credits.” So I felt like I didn’t have a complete sense of closure, I guess, though enough is hinted at in the last few seconds that you can sort of supply your own interpretation.

Oh, actually there was one other problem, though most people would probably never even find it — the second half or so of the credits has some awful pop song as the background music, which completely destroys the mood. Most people don’t let the credits run, so it’s probably not an issue for them, but I always do; I never trust credits to be the end of a movie anymore. So when your credit music completely trashes the mood of the film with a shitty pop song, you can bet I’m not going to be happy.

As an added buffer before I put in the possibly-spoiler-y list of horror clichés, have the trailer for the film. If you’re so inclined, you can rent the movie “Starting at $2.99” on YouTube, a fact I just stumbled on while searching for the trailer.

Cliché Count:

  • Jump scare (not actually a scary thing) — 1
  • Jump scare (scary thing) — 3
  • Suspicious stranger — 1
  • Footprints where they shouldn’t be — 1
  • Bump in the night — 2
  • Creepy basement — 4
  • Creepy whispers — 2
  • Creepy dolls — 1
  • Suspiciously withholding information — 4
  • Creepy thing in the distance — 1
  • Thing passing in a blur — 1
  • Missing kids — 1
  • Ghost as deus ex machina — 2
Total: 24 instances of 13 clichés

To the friend who recommended I watch it, this post goes out to you! Thanks!!


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