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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011 10:46 pm

Dream House offers a poignant look at madness

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Walking in to see Jim Sheridan’s Dream House, my expectations were less than high. The film was not screened in advance for critics – never a good sign – and the trailer for the film seems to give away a key plot point. So at the halfway mark I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed in this twist-turny ghost story, despite the fact that the marketing geniuses at Universal had given away part of the film’s big twist.

As with most tales of this sort, it begins with a vision of normalcy that’s just begging to be ripped apart by tragedy or supernatural forces. Will (Daniel Craig) is a former publisher who’s recently put his career on hold so that he might work on a long-gestating novel. His lovely wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) is rehabbing their home as he works, while their two beautiful young daughters prance about and do what little girls do. However, they soon begin to see a mysterious man lurking outside the house and Will stumbles upon a rather unsettling piece of information. Seems their home was the site of a mass murder. Its former owner killed his family five years prior and has been recently released from the institution where he’s resided since.

As Will investigates, the film’s big reveal occurs. Though as plot twists go, this one is out there, it’s not so outlandish to be unbelievable. The avenue it opens for the narrative makes it worth the risk. However, what really makes the film watchable during its second half is Craig, who shows a side of himself seen too rarely on screen. Often accused of being far too still, here the actor delivers a poignant performance as a man grappling with a startling revelation that causes him to question his sanity. As Will tries to find out exactly what has befallen him and his family, Craig is able to increase our sympathy for his character as he subtly displays a palpable sense of despair and anxiety.

To be sure, the movie’s third act is a disappointment. The solution to the film’s mystery is as pedestrian as they come. There’s little in the way of standard horror-movie scares. This too-slick exercise suffers in comparison to the recent spate of “found footage” shockers (The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity) as well as the less-is-more approach of this year’s Insidious. However, Craig keeps you hooked throughout and it’s a shame that the film’s screenwriters weren’t as daring as he proves to be.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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