Psychological thrillers are hard to do properly. Whether trying to appeal to a pretentious deep-seated metaphor, or just a set up for an M. Night Shaymalan-esque twist, attention absoltuely has to be paid to keeping the twist obscured, and orchestrated to pack the biggest emotional punch; what's colloquially known as the 'MindF**k'. What you can't go and do is give the twist at the end of the first act with next to no buildup.
It looks like Dream House didn't get the memo.
Okay, so the premise then. Daniel Craig is Will Atenton, a British man with an all-American family, moving into the house of his dreams. Problem is, the neighbours are freaked out by him, there are goths hanging out in his basement, and... oh yeah, five years ago the family living there were shot in cold blood. So not so dreamy then.
This could have devolved into a run-of-the-mill slasher film with the ghosts of the recently deceased causing havoc, but no, Dream House is clearly too smart for something so gauche. After finding out that the husband of the murdered family survived and was interred at the local mental hospital, Will goes to visit the facility, and then The Twist happens. I would feel bad for spelling it out, but I'll just say that the reveal is laughably contrived, lacked build-up, and poor Daniel Craig did his best to act as if the revelation was tearing him apart.
With the twist out of the way so early into the film, the rest of the runtime is taken up with a one-sided murder mystery. Only Will Atenton seems particularly interested with the pursuit of the truth, neither the police nor the audience offer more than a shrug, and just leave him to get on with it.
That's not to say that Daniel and the rest of the cast are doing a bad job of working with the awful source material; they just can't do anything to save it. A fair amount of dialogue is required from the two daughters of the family in order to go for a sappy, heartstring-pulling angle (rendering them immediately annoying from the get-go), and the rest of the cast does a good job of keeping them in line, but the end result doesn't really work. It's pandering and tedious.
Dream House's thrilling conclusion goes down like the clichéd path it was predestined to roll towards. Villains are evil and hateful simply because they're evil and hateful, everything goes down in flames, and it all resolves with a happy ending like there was no gruesome murder in the first place. Yawn.
Dream House turned out to be a movie that thought it could survive on star power. Hopefully its failure will stand out as an example to other film projects as what not to do when putting a thriller together.
Dream House is showing at York's Reel Cinema. For more information http://york.reelcinemas.co.uk/?