If you want to sound like everyone else, say these things.
If you want to sound smarter and more elitist than everyone else, continue reading.
Director: Joe Sheridan
Husband and Wife: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz
Across the Street Neighbor: Naomi Watts
Watts's Ex-Husband: Marton Csokas
Shows Up: Elias Koteas
Watts's daughter who I am only mentioning because I found the shape of her head intersting: Rachel G. Fox
Repeat after me:
1: "It's not scary."
I see where you're coming from. The trailer definitely made it look spooky, but the film is, undeniably, a identity-based drama in the vein of The Bourne Identity. Except Dream House is in the "supernatural" sub-genre rather than "secret agent". The false promoting is probably the result of the fractured nature of the production and the product being an amalgamation of Sheridan's filming and the studio's final cut. Craig and Weisz were so unhappy when they saw the film that they refused to promote it. The studio probably thought Dream House would make more money opening weekend if people believed it was a scary movie rather than a drama. Who knows if they were right? This is like Fight Club being marketed as a senseless beat-em-up. The lesson is: trailers fucking suck, and studios need to calm down.
2: "It's disjointed."
I mean, it definitely changes tone several times, but I think this is intentional rather than being poorly put together. The first tone change occurs half-way through the movie and is obviously purposeful. While you and others may not have liked it, you have to give Dream House credit for trying something bold. Now, the other tone change happens near the end and quite suddenly and a lot of people are complaining about this. But, it's justifiable. Csokas sees an opportunity and seizes it. This action is jarring after the slow stride the film had settled into, but is it inexplicable? No. Is it fully developed? That's debatable. But the one scene that doesn't fit is when, early on, we see a conversation between Csokas and a coworker, in Csokas' office. At no other point in the film do we leave the other characters to focus on Csokas. Which means this lone departure doesn't fit the rest of the film. (If they argue "the teenagers only appeared once" you respond with "the teenagers were part of the build up of Peter Ward so fit into the construction of a specific, growing atmosphere.")
3. "The pacing is bad."
(Repeat 2, substituting "tone" for "pacing").
4. "The trailer ruined the movie."
I wouldn't go that far. The twist the trailer ruined happens at the mid-way point. And I actually found the first part really interesting because even though it was my first time watching the movie I knew what was going to happen. So I was able to scrutinize as though it were my second viewing, watching for clues, picking up on little details I maybe would have otherwise overlooked. And that's really the difference between first and second viewings: the first time you're in a very "what's going to happen"-passive state, where on the second viewing you know what happens so you're in an active, analytical state. Knowing what happened also made the character interactions of the first half all the more poignant for me (poor Craig). When the twist did occur and I had half the movie left, I was really excited to see what happened next. Plus, I never saw the second twist coming. (Now you pause. If they don't say anything, you say:) You do know what the second twist was? (If they don't say the right answer, you shake your head).
5. "The last fifteen minutes of the movie are stupid."
They explain. They'll say some version of this: "I knew those people would be involved! It was obvious! And not developed well at all--it just sort of happened out of no where. This drama suddenly becomes a bad version of a hostage-thriller."
Then you say: Well, first. Csokas saw an opportunity and went for it. It does sort of just...happen. But I was fine with that. What's the other option? You add 10-15 more minutes to the movie just to fully build up to the scene? Would that have made it any less obvious? I think it would have been more obvious. Is that what you would've wanted? What would you have done differently?
(Listen. Then say:) What made the entire thing okay for me was the second twist. Without it, the climax is run-of-the-mill. But the twist makes it fresh. (If they ask "what second twist?" you win. If you explain the second twist and they say, "oh, I didn't think about that," you win. If you explain the twist and they don't even begrudgingly accept your point, mock everything they say from here on).
6. "It is a lot like Shutter Island."
It is. But did you notice it also has a lot in common with The Shining, Secret Window, Inception, and Ghost? (They will either go "oh! Yeah. Wow, hadn't thought about that," or ask you to explain. Don't explain. Tell them to see those movies and it's obvious.) (What's not obvious, and what I definitely have to explain, is Inception. To be fair, Inception came out after Dream House had started production, so it's not like Inception was a direct influence or anything. What they have in common though, and why I group them,is both use an "other world" to explore psychological states, grief, and atonement).
7. "Did you know the director and the producer were getting into huge fights because the director kept improvising instead of following the script?"
Yeah, everybody is talking about that. (That's the dick response).
(You can also say:) Yeah, it's really interesting and also a shame. Sheridan is a Oscar nominated director. You wonder why a studio would pull the reigns on someone who is well-known and well-respected? I wonder if Sheridan will get to do a director's cut? Morgan Creek Productions has a reputation to uphold. The clash between Sheridan and MCP is common knowledge and Dream House was critically panned and its box office take is well-below the fifty million dollar budget. If MCP let's Sheridan do a director's cut and it's good, they apologize, fire someone, and move on. If the director's cut sucks, MCP is vindicated and can say it was Sheridan's fault to begin with.
8. "I saw the twist coming."
Did you see this coming? (They'll say "See what?" Then you lightly smack them in the face.)
9. "It is a lot like The Shining."
(Repeat 6. But substitute Shutter Island for The Shining as the first movie you name).
10. "The film had some good parts but didn't work on the whole."
You know, I think this is kind of cool. If you think about it, Daniel Craig's character has the same sort of thing going on.
"What sort of thing?"
Well, so, the movie's highs and lows, how it changes tone and pace, is reminiscent of Craig, his highs and lows, his changes in tone and pace. In other words: the film's structure and style is mimicking its plot. The film is suffering the same sort of pangs, imperfections and outbursts as Craig. I know this isn't intentional, is a byproduct of the movie being a forcing together of Sheridan's filming and Morgan Creek Production's editing, but it's interesting nonetheless. Even this idea of Dream House having been filmed with one goal in mind and edited in an entirely different direction fits, in a way, with Craig's character progression.
The next two points are what no one is talking about. They are also spoilers. If you haven't seen Dream House yet, skip to "Did I like it". Otherwise, continue reading.
11. "What is the second twist, anyway?"
Wait, so you don't know what the second twist is?
Remember how when the bad guy took Craig and Watts to the basement?
The bad guy reacted when Weisz opened the door. He turned back like what the fuck?, but no one was there.
It's because she's not a fragment of Craig's imagination, she's a ghost. Which implies that Craig's daughters are also ghosts. Which means that, yes, Craig is damaged but he's not a total psycho. This is why when the bad guy is going to set the Craig and Watts on fire Weisz is able to wake one of them up. And, I get that Craig may have just woken up on his own, but it's because the wife is a ghost that when the bad guy is trying to find and shoot Craig that the wife is able to run through the basement hitting things and making noise that distracts the bad guy and causes him to shoot at the sounds rather than Craig. If she were merely a figment of Craig's imagination, this wouldn't have happened. The implication, then, is Craig was not hallucinating everything. But that some combination of hallucination and ghostly possession had thoroughly altered his view of reality. Which makes Dream House a smash-up of Shutter Island and Ghost.
The person will then say things like "If they were ghosts all along, why did they act scared and act like real people during the first part?")
To which you say: Because they didn't know they were ghosts either, or they knew and simply wanted Craig to believe they were real.
And they'll say: "Why then did the girls reveal their gun shots?"
And you can say: This supports the fact the ghosts didn't know they were ghosts, that they were finding out just like Craig was. This also explains why Weisz gets so frazzled and seems so bemused in the final climax.
12. "So that last scene was stupid..."
The last scene is so subtle, I don't think most people will even get what's going on. ... By the look on your face...YOU DIDN'T GET IT DID YOU?
Think about the first scene. Craig is an editor at a publishing house in the city. He quits so he can work on a novel and spend time with his family in their new home in a town in Connecticut. Except we know that Craig isn't an editor at a publishing house. He's been institutionalized for the past five years. We also know that he's concocted a false reality where he no longer thinks of himself as Peter Ward but Will Atenton. So what is actually happening in the opening scene?
It's probably Craig being released from the mental hospital. In his new reality, Craig has come to see the hospital as "the city" and his time there as a "job" where he works long hours. Now think about the last scene. We see Craig, in the city, walking down the street. He stops in front of a window where his book "Dream House" is on display. There are two possible explanations. The first (the one most people probably think is what happened) is that Craig moved back to the city and wrote a book based on the film's events and it's a huge hit. The second is this: Craig is back in the mental institution, has regressed to delusion so believes himself living, once again, in the city and that the life he had, the death of his wife and kids, his injury, his recovery, the truth, was nothing but the plot of a novel he has written. It's sad.
There's a third possible conclusion: Craig really does set out to write a novel. The first scene and the last scene are "real". Everything else is the plot of the novel he is writing and he imagines himself as the protagonist. I really don't think Morgan Creek Productions is this clever. I'm sure the first interpretation is what they had in mind. It was a simple way to end the movie and move on. But...scholars make the point that once a work of art is public, the author no longer has a say. That the work speaks for itself. So regardless of MCP's intentions, this third possibility is absolutely valid.
Did I Like It:
Yes. For all the reasons in the assessment. I find the movie really interesting, especially with its backstory: the conflict between Sheridan and his producer; Craig and Weisz falling in love on-set. I like identity explorations as well.
It's not as good as I had hoped for. I think most movies can stand to be a little longer. I know people always say "cut, cut, cut" but I'm in the opposite camp. Expand, expand, expand. I feel like by adding you can always make something more interesting (except maybe the fact that Csokas was the bad guy; unless they would have introduced more characters and potential villains). Cutting material, to me, feels like avoiding the problem. The caveat is: don't repeat. Unless it's for effect.
I didn't realize Sheridan was a big deal director. I thought an unknown guy had done a decent job. I'll have to watch something else by him and compare. I didn't recognize Koteas.
What It's Good For:
-seeing a real-life romance happening on-screen
-people who like plots about identity
-sort of muddled
-obvious bad guy
-takes a lot of thought to figure out and appreciate
-probably will bore some people
% Character / % Actor's personality
Watts: 90/10 (her role is limited but she embodies what small part she does have)
Sheridan: My Left Foot
Craig: Casino Royale; Munich
Weisz: The Fountain; Enemy at the Gates; The Constant Gardener
Watts: King Kong; The Ring; Eastern Promises; Mulholland Drive
Koteas: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; The Thin Red Line
Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo
The Shining: Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson
Ghost: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore
Inception: Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thomas Hardy, Ellen Page
Secret Window: Johnny Depp