From its spoiler-ridden advertising campaign to its throwaway title sequence, Dream House appears to be your typical assembly-line horror flick unceremoniously dumped into theaters for a quick buck. And while it initially seems like John Debney’s generic musical score is going to be the only source of mood establishment, something funny happens: setup established, the characters begin to move about like butterflies emerging from cocoons, displaying tenfold more emotional nuance than one might rightfully, albeit cynically, expect from such a film. This is perhaps explained by the man behind the camera: Jim Sheridan, who proved his chops as an insightful, emotional storyteller on films such as My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. His presence here is both rewarding and bizarre.
Ultimately, this is a character drama disguised as a horror film, the big scares coming infrequently and insincerely. Daniel Craig is Will Atenton, a family man who quits his publishing job to spend more time with his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and children (the incredibly naturalistic Claire and Taylor Geare), immediately after which prowlers and other strange happenings begin to upset the serenity of their home. Previously unbeknownst to the family is a series of murders that wiped out their home’s former occupants, save for the father guilty of the crimes. Some investigation reveals that all is not what—or who—it seems, and Will must confront the truth that it was his family who was murdered, he the assumed culprit, and that the woman and children who live in his home are either mental projections or spirits who’ve yet to move on. Fortunately, for those privy to the trailer, the plot has a few more cards up its sleeve after these basic expectations have been satisfied.
Compared to profound works about family like In America, Dream House is junk, but it’s enjoyable junk with a lick of human interest and the good sense to not take itself too seriously in the end, a quality that manifests itself in the shamelessly cheeky way Will’s seemingly disparate worldviews begin to overlap during a fiery climax. The truth about Will and his family is never made explicit until the end, and even then it’s only inferred, which brings tension to these late scenes in a manner that doesn’t condescend to the viewer. A modest genre entry, Dream House also benefits from the fact that any movie with good enough sense to cast Elias Koteas is automatically better as a result, even if he is utterly wasted here. Movies like this have a place, and while utilizing the full extent of Sheridan’s talent was clearly not what the studio had in mind here, I’m still grateful for his involvement. Without his empathetic touch, Dream House would have likely been a total waste.