Directed by Jim Sheridan. Starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Elias Koteas, Taylor Geare, Claire Geare, Marton Csokas, Rachel Fox. (2011, PG-13, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 7, 2011
It should be said by somebody at some point, so why not now: Elias Koteas is this generation's Elisha Cook Jr. Laugh if you must, but Koteas has built a solid, character-driven CV from small but memorable roles in films as varied as Gattaca, Fallen, and Shutter Island. Cook Jr., instantly recognizable from House on Haunted Hill, Rosemary's Baby, and pretty much every TV cop show ever made prior to his death, mined similar territory in his day. Just sayin'.
That said, Koteas has a memorably meaty part in Dream House, but it can't distract from the fact that this film is a confounding mess despite its impressive cast and director. I blame David Loucka's script, which starts off as what appears to be a haunted house yarn before unwisely switching gears midway through and turning into a rote "Who's crazy here?" exercise in memory, identity, and murder.
Craig is New York writer Will Atenton who moves his family – wife Libby (Weisz) and daughters Trish and Dee Dee (Taylor and Claire Geare) – to the burbs so he can escape the big city and work on his novel. It's all shiny, happy family until his neighbors Jack (Csokas) and Ann (Watts), who are engaged in a bitter custody battle over daughter Chloe (Fox), start looking at him funny and acting as if they already know this new guy on the block. Will's daughters start seeing figures lurking outside; Will begins to hear ominous voices; and the suburban-gothic tone, complete with mounting dread and half-repressed nightmares, blossoms into full-on crazy. No spoilers here, but the aforementioned Martin Scorsese film is a close family relative of this shopworn story.
Most baffling of all is how Jim Sheridan, a prestige director with several smashingly excellent films to his credit (not least among them My Left Foot and In America) was lassoed into this murk. Or, for that matter, Watts, who is arguably the most interesting actress working today. I'm guessing the screenplay read better on paper than it did when translated to the screen, but whatever the reason, Dream House is neither haunting (as the marketing appears to promise) nor all that original. But it does, thank goodness for small favors, have Elias Koteas.