CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DREAM HOUSE (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A house in suburban Connecticut —suddenly explodes, igniting into a giant fireball. Cameramen and film crew members flee the scene, while the DIRECTOR jumps up and down, swearing.)
DIRECTOR: ARE YOU GUYS CRAZY???
MICHAEL ARRUDA: No.
L.L. SOARES: Yes.
DIRECTOR: What the hell is wrong with you? What did you do that for? (Pointing to fireball.) Do you realize how expensive—? We were supposed to shoot this week’s review here.
MA: There’s been a change in plans.
LS: Yeah, we wanted to blow this whole haunted house genre out of the water. Ka-boom!
MA: Especially since today’s movie DREAM HOUSE (2011) doesn’t come close to blowing anything out of the water.
DIRECTOR: I’m sick of you guys!
MA: Well, you’re in the minority. You should see our readership numbers.
DIRECTOR: I’m never working with you again!
MA: That’s what you said last week.
LS: And the week before that. And the week before that. Why don’t you just man up and show some backbone and quit for real!
DIRECTOR (in obvious frustration): But I like CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT! It’s just you two guys! You’re so— so—!
(MA hands LS a crossbow, and LS fits it with a toilet plunger which he fires at the director. The plunger engulfs the DIRECTOR’s face, and the man runs off screaming.)
MA (shaking his head): I’m not really sure why he doesn’t like working with us.
LS: We pay him as well as we pay ourselves.
LS: Anyway, shall we review DREAM HOUSE?
MA: Certainly. Hey, that fireball back there is glowing red hot. Maybe we should switch locations.
LS (standing in front of the flickering red flames) : Nah. I like it right here.
MA: Reminds you of home, does it?
(Flashback to LS holding a pitchfork and wearing horns and a tail and asking,” Where are my slippers?”)
MA: DREAM HOUSE is a new “ghost story” thriller starring James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. I say “ghost story” in quotes, because as ghost stories go, DREAM HOUSE is pretty lame. It’s more of a psychological “thriller” than a supernatural haunted house tale, and, to be honest, it’s not much of a thriller either.
LS: C’mon! You didn’t find this movie thrilling?
LS: Me, either.
MA: Anyway, as the movie begins, Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) is seen happily leaving his job for good at a publishing house in order to work at home writing his novel, which will allow him to spend quality time with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) and their two young daughters in their new home in suburban Connecticut.
Hmm, spending quality time with his family while writing a novel. I guess he’ll be writing his novel in his sleep! I thought this was a funny plot point, since it implies that staying home writing a novel will give this guy lots of free time to spend with his wife and kids, as if writing a novel isn’t a full time job itself!
LS: You’d think screenwriters would have some clue what it’s like to be a writer. What’s up with that?
MA: No clue.
LS: Yeah, they’ve got no clue, either.
MA: They soon learn that a family was murdered in their house five years before, and for some reason, this really creeps them out.
LS: They’re creeped out because Will discovers a group of teenagers in their basement writing graffiti all over the walls about the murders, and having some kind of ritual with candles or something. I’m not really sure what the hell they were doing in the basement. Trying to commune with the dead? But I guess that would be kind of creepy.
MA: Yeah, I guess that’s upsetting.
When Will tries to find out more about these murders, he learns that the father survived the shooting, and, in fact, was the prime suspect in the murders. He also learns that the father has recently been released from an institution, and since there’s been a man lurking about outside their home, they assume it’s the father, and suddenly the family is in panic mode.
It’s at this time that the movie reveals its first plot twist, given away completely in the film’s trailers, and once this happens, the movie switches to Will’s dealing with this horrific revelation, and ultimately, his solving the mystery behind it.
(SHERLOCK HOLMES is hovering in the background, smoking a pipe)
LS: Hey, it’s not a spoiler in this case, because the damned TRAILER spells it out for us in big letters before we even see the movie. Will is shocked to find out that he is the father of the murdered family, and that his name is really Peter Ward.
If anyone has gone to the movies during the last month, and been subjected to the trailer, or checked the trailer out on the Internet, then they know this already. I’m not the bad guy here. The bad guy is the idiot who put that TRAILER together. The audience should feel cheated. I know I did. I felt like I’d already seen this stupid movie before I even bought a ticket. Just more proof that Hollywood is a bunch of morons. Why give away a major plot point in a trailer?!!
MA: It’s absolutely ridiculous! Can you imagine if the same folks who put this trailer together—and most of the other trailers around these days— had been in charge of putting together trailers for these classics: PSYCHO—the trailer would have revealed Norman Bates dressed as his mother. KING KONG —Kong is shown falling from the Empire State Building. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK—Darth Vader saying the immortal words, “Luke, I am your father.”
Thanks a lot, morons!!!
LS: We could have reviewed this movie based on the trailer alone and not even bothered to see the movie itself.
MA: I wish we had.
(SHERLOCK HOLMES suddenly moves forward)
HOLMES: I have used my keen powers of deductive reasoning to determine that Will Aterton is in truth Peter Ward!
LS: We’re way ahead of you lame-brain! It doesn’t take a detective to figure this one out.
MA: Did you see the trailer, Mr. Holmes?
HOLMES: Yes I did. That is how I was able to deduce this without ever seeing the actual movie.
LS: Oh go away, you wind-bag.
(HOLMES leaves in a huff)
MA: I’m not going to beat around the bush. I didn’t like DREAM HOUSE at all, and one of the main reasons I didn’t like it was the film’s major plot twist is given away in the previews. This twist takes place about half way through the movie, and since I knew about it beforehand, the first half of this movie was a complete waste of time. The story is supposed to build up suspense about the situation this family finds themselves in, but it’s false suspense since we, the audience, already know where the story is going. The movie should have begun with the twist. Why waste our time? I’m sick and tired of movie trailers giving away too much information about the movies their advertising. This crap has to stop!
LS: I hope someone who is involved in making trailers reads this and passes the word on. This policy is incredibly stupid. Audiences are tired of it. STOP IT ALREADY!
MA: On the other hand, even without this giveaway, the film is still rather lame. The first half, when Will and his family are supposedly being spooked in their new home, is hardly spooky at all. And later, after the revelation, and the story switches gears and becomes a murder mystery, the film doesn’t become scarier or even more interesting. It simply becomes sadder, as what happened to Will is tragic, but that’s about it.
LS: The only thing this movie made me feel sad about was the money I’d wasted on a damn ticket!
MA: DREAM HOUSE is a very sad movie, and in that regard it reminded me of the Nicole Kidman film THE OTHERS (2001), which also involved ghosts and the deaths of young children, but that movie was much more atmospheric, eerie and unsettling than DREAM HOUSE.
LS: It was also another movie with a hokey twist. You obviously enjoyed THE OTHERS more than I did.
MA: Well, I liked it more than DREAM HOUSE, which, I guess, isn’t saying much.
LS: I found that movie, and DREAM HOUSE, to both be sick patients with the disease I call SHYAMALAN SYNDROME, because this whole “twist” thing was fresh when M. Night Shyamalan directed THE SIXTH SENSE in 1999, and then it got really tired soon afterwards, even in the movies of M. Night himself.
MA: Especially in the movies of M.Night.
LS: This incessant need to give us one lame plot twist after another in an attempt to shock us. The thing is, lame twists don’t shock anyone. They just annoy the hell out of us. THE OTHERS was a lot better than this movie, but they both had the same intent. And, in my opinion, they both failed. Except DREAM HOUSE is an epic fail.
MA: In terms of tone, DREAM HOUSE reminded me more of the sanitized Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer thriller WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000), a film I didn’t like at all. I didn’t like DREAM HOUSE either.
LS: I despised this stupid movie.
MA: The worst part of DREAM HOUSE is its screenplay by David Loucka. The story is very disappointing. It’s not really a ghost story—the ghost elements are just on the fringe of the story and don’t really come into play until the end—and it’s not a very good thriller or mystery, either. There aren’t any decent thrills anywhere, and the mystery is undone by the film’s trailers, which give away the main twist in the film. The latter half of DREAM HOUSE involves Will/Peter trying to piece together what really happened on that awful night, and this is only somewhat interesting. The story is ultimately done in by a ridiculously contrived ending that I found even more disappointing than the twist giveaway in the trailer! So, simply put, I thought the story told in DREAM HOUSE was horrible.
LS: I thought the ending actually explained some things—except I thought the things it explained were stupid. And what was with Peter Ward’s amnesia? How friggin convenient. And how completely contrived and unbelievable.
(Suddenly, a GHOST appears beside them)
LS: Oh, go haunt a house, you moron!
GHOST: Awww, don’t be mad. I was just playing. My name is Casper. Would you two guys like to be my friends?
MA: We’re trying to review a movie here. Go away!
LS: Yeah, get lost!
GHOST (crying): You guys are so mean.
LS: Beat it, you crybaby!
MA: Director Jim Sheridan simply goes through the motions and adds nothing of note to this movie. It has the look and feel of a bad TV-movie— bland and unimaginative.
LS: I’m surprised, because Sheriden is normally a good director. I mean, he gave us award-winning films like MY LEFT FOOT (1989) and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993). But he really seems to have been asleep at the wheel when he directed DREAM HOUSE.
I actually found myself squirming during parts of this movie. Not out of suspense, but because I didn’t want to be sitting in the damn movie theater watching this crap.
MA: The best part of DREAM HOUSE is Daniel Craig. I’m a Daniel Craig fan, so I always enjoy watching him, and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen him deliver a poor performance. Craig doesn’t disappoint here. He’s excellent as Will Atenton. Once he finds out the truth about his past, Craig’s Will becomes a tortured soul who looks and acts exactly the way a man in his predicament should look and act.
LS: No, the best part of DREAM HOUSE was when the end credits rolled and it was over! What is it with you and Daniel Craig, anyway? The guy’s a good actor, but he’s hardly infallible. To say he’s excellent as Will Atenton is a laugh, because it’s a horrible role. He can try to make it a little better, but if it’s complete crap, how can he deliver an excellent performance? You’re just screwy.
MA: I’m not screwy. It’s simply this: he’s good, but the role isn’t.
It’s one of the reasons I didn’t like this movie more, in spite of Craig’s solid performance. The role itself of Will Atenton stinks. True, Atenton is horrified and sad when he learns the truth about what happened to his family, and we feel for him, as we should, but when the story becomes all about Atenton’s solving the mystery, he doesn’t have to work hard to find answers. They fall right into his lap, which does not make for high drama.
LS: I still say it’s a valiant attempt at portraying an incredibly dumb character. But it’s hardly “solid” or “excellent.” It’s a failure. But it’s not his fault, because the material Craig is given to work with is awful.
MA: The rest of the acting is decent. I enjoyed Rachel Weisz as Atenton’s wife, Libby. She did a good job creating a strong character, so that what happens in the film’s conclusion in terms of her character comes off as believable.
LS: Really? I like Weisz, but I found her incredibly irritating here, because she perpetuates what is wrong with this movie. Every scene she’s in just aggravated me more and more, especially after the big twist in the middle. It’s like—wake the hell up, Daniel Craig! And their scenes at the end are just plain sappy. Rachel Weisz deserved a lot better role than this!
MA: Naomi Watts has less success as Atenton’s friend and neighbor, Ann Patterson. Watts is fine, but the role is small, and although she does play a key part in the film’s ridiculous conclusion, it’s not a very active one. She’s nothing more than another victim.
LS: I like Naomi Watts a lot. In fact, she’s probably my favorite actor in the movie – even more so than Craig—but you’re right; her role is pretty thankless. I guess that’s another big problem for me. It’s a good cast—and they are all completely wasted here. Why did such smart people agree to be in such a lousy movie? Did they even bother to read the script? Or were they just so eager to work with director Jim Sheriden than they agreed to be in it, sight unseen?
MA: And Elias Koteas, an actor I like a lot, is completely wasted in a small but key role as a creep named Boyce.
LS: My man, Elias, who I will always remember as Vaughn in the classic CRASH (1996) by David Cronenberg. No matter how many bad movies this guy is in, I still forgive him. The thing is, there is a scene very early in the movie where Daniel Craig is taking the commuter train back to Connecticut and he bumps into Koteas on the train. There’s something menacing about him right off the bat. Anybody would have seen what was coming with his character a mile away!
MA: Ultimately, DREAM HOUSE fails as a drama, mystery, thriller and ghost story, because first and foremost, it fails to thrill, but it also struggles unsuccessfully to tell a decent story that makes sense. And its ending is stupid and insulting.
If you’re a Daniel Craig fan, you might like this movie, but if you’re not a fan, I can’t imagine any other reason to see DREAM HOUSE. So, if you need a Daniel Craig fix before THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO comes out in December, you might want to see this one, because Craig is indeed very good here. Otherwise, stay away.
LS: How dare you suggest anyone subject themselves to this garbage! Even Daniel Craig fans need to stay away. Why would you want to see a good actor in such a lousy movie? Instead, go rent one of his Bond movies or, better yet, 2004’s LAYER CAKE. Watch him in a good movie instead!
MA: I knew you were going to say that, but the thing is, when you’re a fan of an actor’s work, you like to see everything they do, or at least I do, which is why to Craig’s fans, I still say they might like this one. I know I enjoy seeing my favorite actors even in films that aren’t so hot. Look at Bela Lugosi! Most of his films suck, yet I still watched them.
Anyway, I give DREAM HOUSE one and half knives, and I only give it this high a rating because of the presence of Daniel Craig.
LS: I still don’t understand your crush on Daniel Craig, but I think you are being way too generous here.
MA: Whoa, whoa, whoa! There’s no man crush going on here! I just think Craig is a phenomenal actor, and just because he plays James Bond, shouldn’t detract from his talents.
LS: I give DREAM HOUSE just half of a knife. And that’s despite the strong cast. The material they have to work with is beneath their talents, and an insult to our intelligence as movie-goers. When I saw this movie, someone leaving the theater afterwards shouted, “Boy, that really sucked,” and I bursted out laughing, because he was completely right. No one should have to sit through this dumb-ass movie. We saw it so you don’t have to, dear readers.
Aside from giving a few good actors a paycheck, there is no reason why this movie should have been made.
MA: Let’s get out of here before the fire trucks show up.
LS: Yeah, I don’t want to get yelled at again.
(They leave, to reveal CASPER and SLIMER from the GHOSTBUSTERS movies, sitting on a rock, smoking cigarettes and toasting marshmallows on the fire as the house blazes on. )
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives DREAM HOUSE ~ one and a half knives.
L.L. Soares gives DREAM HOUSE ~ half a knife.