Dream House had plenty of potential with its story, despite the fact that it’s completely derivative of two other movies. Revealing those films would spoil the surprise, as they are both popular and well-received by audiences and critics alike. The shame is not in the copycat techniques but rather in the failure to exploit the stolen ideas to the fullest extent. Dream House fuses the plots cleverly, but fizzles when the first big reveal can be guessed 45 minutes in (if not sooner) – and is then purposely betrayed at the one hour mark so that audiences can ponder and digest the not-so-shocking revelation.
Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) has finally decided to quit his job as an editor at GPH Publishers to spend more time with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and kids (Taylor and Claire Geare) and to start writing a book. He moves to a large house in rural Fairfield County, which holds a dark history. In his new home, undisclosed by his realtor, a father brutally murdered his wife and kids. Will eventually learns that the unhinged man, Peter Ward, spent five years in a psychiatric ward and was then released – to a halfway house nearby.
Will’s children aren’t too fond of the considerable dwelling, especially when they see a mysterious man watching them through the window. Fresh footprints in the snow support their sighting, and Will is repeatedly awoken by bumps in the night. The neighbor across from him, Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), knows something of Ward’s incarceration, but refuses to divulge information. Everyone in the town seems rather tight-lipped about the deadly incident, and Will takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of it. When someone continues to harass his family by stalking the house, he visits Ward’s institution to uncover some startling evidence.
An accomplished, celebrated cast of characters gives Dream House a higher quality (than its B-movie origins) and greater promise. Some will say they’re wasted on this script, but it’s not as dismal as that. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of storyline that needs polishing, a few more solid thrills, and smarter twists – or at least more intelligent psychological zigzags. The serene music compliments the sense of foreboding that steadily creeps into the picture, along with the savvy use of mirrors, reflections, general mise en scene, and shuddersome environment (namely the hallway and basement). Most of it is gimmicky but effective. But as with any mystery, the solution is the most crucial aspect – it’s the one element that proves most memorable and determines whether or not the film will be recognized as unique. If a whodunit concedes a letdown, even its high points are unlikely to be forgiven.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)