Regrettably, if you've seen the trailer for 'Dream House,' then you've seen the entire movie. The victim of its own marketing campaign, the new psychological thriller from Jim Sheridan ('My Left Foot,' 'In the Name of the Father') inexplicably reveals the movie's significant plot twist in two-and-a-half minutes, while also trying to sell it as something it's not. At first, I thought it a rather bold move on the part of the filmmakers, but after watching the sloppily assembled dud, it turns out it really is the best the story's has to offer, a hackneyed revelation.
If you haven't seen the trailer, which ruins all of the surprises, beware, there are spoilers ahead.
Daniel Craig plays doting husband and loving father Will Atenton, retiring early from a career as a book editor in order to spend more time with his family. Within a couple days, his two daughters, Trish (Taylor Geare) and Dee Dee (absolutely adorable Claire Geare), claim to see dark figures snooping outside the family's new house. As is the usual case, no one is ever found, but the scary noises persist, and evidence starts pointing to a larger mystery, giving everyone the heebie-jeebies. For the first half of the movie, uncovering the puzzle (which scares Will's wife (Rachel Weisz) unbearably) is mostly entertaining. But a good deal of that is also related to us waiting for the moment when Will realizes he's actually delusional. (No need for a spoiler since the preview already ruined that.)
Once it's made clear Will's family and home are all in his head (again, thanks to the trailers), we discover a small sliver of potential in David Loucka's script. Tucked beneath the guise of a paranormal thriller lies a seemingly tragic drama about loss and acceptance. Craig turns in a surprisingly poignant performance in those few minutes where he struggles to confront everything he only just believed to be true. His face is wrought with believable fear and confusion as he slowly takes in reality and tackles the even greater challenge of having to say goodbye once more to his wife and children. With the help of next-door neighbor Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), Will makes efforts to recall the events of that night, which also prove to be disappointingly easy to predict.
Not only the victim of a bad sale (by way of previews), 'Dream House' also suffers terribly from studio tampering. So much so that neither the film's director nor the cast participated during the promotional campaign. Like the imaginary dark figures snooping around the house, execs and studio heads intervened at various points of the production and are said to be largely responsible for the final cut. It's apparently not bad enough to watch a mystery drama without a genuine secret at its core. Those criminally responsible for this muddled mess have seen fit to eliminate any hint of a touching narrative on a man coping with a horrible memory, reverting instead to a formulaic who-done-it which weirdly shouldn't surprise anyone. Yet somehow, it does manage to confuse.
It seems the previews were meant to salvage whatever possible of this dilapidated property rather than seeing the studio simply walk away and letting it default. Admirable as it may be, the studio's attempt at flipping the project into some kind of idyllic haunted house with a charming psychological twist is unsuccessful. Once its appeal sets in and we explore further, we discover a worn-out, poorly-constructed ramshackle shack, masked by gallons of paint and excellent lighting. Sadly, by the time we realize this, we've already agreed to the price and are locked-in to see it through to the end. This 'Dream House' comes with a timeless cautionary footnote: "Buyer Beware!"
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment puts 'Dream House' up for sale as a Blu-ray two-disc combo pack. The first is a Region Free, BD50 disc while the second is a DVD-9. Both sit securely on opposing panels inside a standard blue keepcase with instructions for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and a glossy cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc commences with a series of internet-based trailers. Afterwards, we have the usual main menu options with music and full-motion clips.
'Dream House' hits the Blu-ray market with a great-looking, highly-detailed 1080p/VC-1 encode.
Presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the picture displays excellent, lifelike textures on facial complexions, exposing the tiniest wrinkles around the eyes and minor blemishes. The fabric and stitching on Craig's jackets are plainly visible, and various small imperfections inside the house are very well-defined. Poorly-lit interiors maintain terrific shadow delineation while exterior shots show exceptional contrast levels with clean, crisp whites throughout. Colors are slightly subdued in many scenes to create a dreary appearance though primaries appear accurate, and warm secondary hues are used affluently when inside the family home. Blacks are true and consistent for the most part, but a few sequences waver some and tend to flatten the image.
Overall, the high-def transfer is in admirable condition with good dimensionality, which should make fans very happy.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is on par with the video, making the best of the surrounds for heightening the scare factor. Discrete effects deliver the whispers of strangers in the distance with great clarity and realism, generating a creepy atmosphere that's generally satisfying. Sadly, it's not consistent enough to completely convince or immerse the viewer, reserving the rears mostly for the final action sequence. The lossless mix fares much better with a spacious and wide imaging across the front soundstage. Channels separation displays excellent balance with fluid panning and directionality, and dialogue reproduction is highly intelligible from beginning to end. The mid-range is crisp and quite extensive with a fairly deep and weighty low-end which doesn't really make its presence known until the final moments.
Bonus material is the same set found on the DVD.
Jim Sheridan's 'Dream House' shows potential as psychological drama with a great cast at the center, but previews, for some unknown reason, ensured there were no skeletons hiding in the closet, with audiences already knowing the plot's deep, dark secrets going in. The movie is also the victim of studio tampering, ruining an intriguing story into a formulaic mystery thriller that's pure nonsense. The Blu-ray arrives with a great audio and video presentation, but supplements are a forgettable set of artificial overviews on the production. Fans will likely be happy with the purchase, but others should rent before making a final decision.