It's no secret that acclaimed director Jim Sheridan was not happy with his 2011 film, Dream House, as his feud over control of the film with Morgan Creek producer Jim Robinson was well publicized and you can see why, after checking out the finished product, Sheridan would be as upset over this as he was. On top of that, as the trailer (cut by Morgan Creek, not Sheridan) more or less gave away the ending of the film, the cast more or less washed their hands of any publicity duties with leading man Daniel Craig noting that while the movie didn't turn out very well, at least he met his wife, co-star Rachel Weisz, on set. But is the movie really that bad? Yeah, it is.
When the movie begins, high ranking book editor Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) is calling it quits and heading to the home he and his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz) have purchased out in rural Connecticut where he plans to work on his book and help her raise their two daughters, Dee (Claire Geare) and Trish (Taylor Geare). Soon after they move in, they overhear the teenager who lives next door, Chloe (Rachel Fox), talking to someone on her cell phone about how 'everyone who moves into that house dies.' Will decides to talk to Chloe's mother, Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), about her daughter's phone call freaking out his young kids and soon after that discovers a gang of gothed out teenagers goofing around in his fruit cellar. It turns out that Will and his family have unwittingly purchased a murder house, it was the site of what the locals believe to have been a murder case where a father named Peter Ward killed his wife and two kids. Soon enough, strange things start happening in and around the house, Ann's behavior becomes increasingly odd, Libby doesn't understand what's happening to Will, who is trying to figure out just what exactly is going on and why the local cops aren't likely to help him. On top of this, everyone keeps seeing a strange man in the woods behind the house.
What sounds like a decent enough premise on paper starts off well enough. We get to know and like Will, a happy father and loving husband, and his family well enough that, okay, they seem like nice people - let's wish them the best in their new digs. From there, the film builds a bit of suspense what with the mystery man prowling around in the woods around the house and the weird vandalism in the basement hinting towards the home's past. It makes sense that Will would start to get defensive the way that he does and it makes sense that, since the cops aren't doing anything, he'd take it upon himself to investigate. It's once he starts investigating, however, that the story starts to fairly quickly unravel until it gets to a messy, sloppy ending that isn't so much suspenseful as it is corny and hokey. The film brings in characters who have had almost nothing to do with the narrative to this point and crams them into the finale to wrap the story up in one of the most ridiculously contrived finales to have hit the screen in some time.
In the middle of this disjointed mess of a film is some nice production work. The filmmakers do a good job of making the creepy house look warm and inviting in some scenes and creepy and foreboding in others. The performances from the three leads are also decent, with Craig doing a fairly good job of portraying his character believably despite the half baked plot twist that the story throws in around the half way mark involving his past. Rachel Weisz is also decent here, playing the loving wife well and convincing us that her character cares about Craig's and also about their kids. Naomi Watts is a solid and dependable actress and her work here is as strong as you'd expect - she plays a big part in the finale, that ridiculous finale, but manages to retain a certain sense of dignity regardless of the film's rampant stupidity during the last twenty minutes. That's got to count for something, and if it doesn't, well, she's still very pretty. That acting, however, isn't the problem here - it's simply a poorly put together film that fails to capitalize on any of the potential it shows in the first half hour and is instead content to mix up a few different genres without doing any one of them particularly well and which instead attempts, and fails, to coast by on star power and flashy visuals.
Dream House looks pretty great in this AVC encoded 2.40.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The film has been shot with some intentional softness and you need to keep that in mind, as certain scenes don't the type of clarity and sharpness you might expect from a brand spankin' new Blu-ray like this but it represents the intent of the filmmakers well enough. Close up shots look very good, you can see all the lines in Daniel Craig's face, while medium and long distance shots generally look good as well - note the scene where Craig goes into the basement to catch the teenagers, you'll pick up on some interesting dirt and grit on the walls as well as some texture left by the paint. Black levels look solid, shadow detail is strong and there are no issues with any form of print damage, dirt or debris of note.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn't quite as enveloping as you might have hoped it would be but it is generally a pretty impressive mix offering up some decent surround activity from the front and back of the stage and a solid low end rumble from your subwoofer. Dialogue is well balanced and the score sounds good and if a few decent jumps scares spike the levels a bit intentionally for dramatic effect the levels are otherwise well balanced. There's some very impressive detail in the mix here, ambient noise in the background of a few key scenes and some interesting and subtle activity in the scene where Craig's character runs around in the woods behind the house at night. All in all, Universal have done very nice work here. Optional standard definition DTS tracks are provided in French and Spanish with subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Extras on this release are, to be blunt, weak and the packaging makes it look like you get more than you really do. Burning Down The House is a four minute look at the special effects work that went into the film, particularly the big finish. It's not deep, it's too short, but it's marginally interesting. Building The Dream House spends a whopping five minutes with the set designer who explains to us how he tried to make the house as much a character in the movie as the humans that populate it. Again, it's marginally interesting but too short to offer up that much substance. The six minute Dream Cast featurette is a collection of quick and superficial clips showing off the primary cast members that comes across as the EPK style promotional bit that it is. Aside from that? A Look Inside is a two minute promo spot that's more or less a glorified advertisement for the film and the Trailer is, well, the trailer for the film. All of the extras are in high definition, the disc is Blu-ray Live and D-Box motion control enabled. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, a DVD disc is also included with the same extras on it.
Some context as to what went wrong with the picture in the form of a proper documentary or commentary track from the director and/or producer would have been very welcome, but it's obvious that the disc's producers didn't want to go there.
Dream House had a lot of potential and features decent performances from the three leads but inevitably falls down hard when it comes time to wrap things up. The ending is a miss, the story is nothing if not convoluted and while the film is slick looking and periodically contains some nice atmosphere, it's ultimately the story that you come to something like this for and that's the movie's weakest aspect. Universal's Blu-ray is short on substantial extras but the transfer and the audio are both impressive. Unless you're really into one of the three leads, you can safely skip this one.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.