As William S. Burroughs wrote, “It’s the little touches that make a future solid enough to be destroyed.” The problem with films that get the details wrong—like Perfect Stranger, Passengers, or the new non-thrilling thriller Dream House—is that when writers and directors don’t build a convincing world to begin with, it’s no great surprise or trauma when they start to take it apart. Just as The Usual Suspects wouldn’t be much of a movie if Verbal Kint’s story was never convincing or interesting in the first place, Dream House can’t shock viewers with a “nothing is as it seems” reversal if it can’t make them initially accept that things are as they seem.
The movie’s biggest flaw is Daniel Craig trying to shuck off his craggy, grim persona to convincingly play the warm, even cutesy husband to far-more-effervescent Rachel Weisz, and loving father to two adorable little girls. From the beginning, he seems like an imposter; his smiles never reach his eyes, his attempts at playful banter are borderline-creepy, and the way he withholds key information from Weisz is disturbing at best. The world around him is just as unconvincing: After Craig and his family move into a weathered suburban mansion, he finds out a ghastly multiple murder took place in the house when he realizes his basement is “infested” with gothy teenagers, who hang out in a room he apparently just hadn’t noticed. His attempts to get more information from neighbor Naomi Watts and the local police are met with the blank-faced artificial stonewalling typically aimed at characters asking questions on Lost. The information he does get about the crime seems nonsensical or contradictory, and his responses are equally unlikely. The many inconsistencies and mysteries fall together with an awkwardly delivered mid-film twist that puts Craig on more comfortable ground as an actor, but the setup is sloppy, the final payoff is sloppier, and the 40 minutes between them is overly protracted denouement.
Several things help buoy the material to the point where Dream House is only average instead of laughable. Weisz throws her considerable natural charisma at the problem, bringing in all the warmth and ease that Craig lacks. The actors playing their daughters are surprisingly convincing. And director Jim Sheridan (In America, In The Name Of The Father) and his art and production design team give the titular dream house a variety of appropriately contrasting warm and cold looks that make the place more of a character than Craig is. But the film’s ambitions are woefully small and familiar. Bad enough that it’s little more than a halfhearted support system for a too-familiar twist; it doesn’t even manage that supporting act particularly well.