Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dream House [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (L) Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -

Dream House (directed by Jim Sheridan, written by David Loucka) is a movie that could perhaps be described as The Shining (1980) meets Inception (2010) where the audience is challenged to figure out what in the story is "real" and ultimately invited render judgement as to whether the movie makes sense at all.

The movie begins with Will Attenton (played by Daniel Craig) packing his things on his last day at work as an editor at a New York publishing company.  He has quit his job in hopes of pursuing his dream of writing of a novel (rather than just editing them).  As he leaves the building, his former boss (played by Jane Alexander) indicates that she's proud of his decision telling him that she always believed that he had more talent being "merely an editor."  She also gives him a card with a phone number on it, telling him that his (new) house in "Franklin County" will need some work and that whoever it is on the card is a good man.  Will smiles, takes the card and heads to the train station to take the trip home to the suburbs, where ever they are.

When he arrives at the train station, no one's waiting for him.  But he runs into a neighbor who takes him to his home.  There Will's wife Libby (played by Rachel Weisz) and two cute as can be little girls, Trish, 7 y/o (played by Taylor Gaere) and Dee Dee 5 y/o (played by Claire Gaere) are busy painting the house and waiting for their dad, who'll now be able to spend far more time with them than before.

It seems like an idyllic situation, but things soon start going wrong.  The little girls start seeing people trying to peer into the house.  Then one night, Will and Libby are awakened by ruckus coming from the basement.  A group of teens, in gothic garb, have apparently broken into the basement and created a something shrine there, with candles and spray painted graffiti.  How is that possible?  Will chases them out but one of the girls tells him that the house had been the site of a notorious murder 5 years back.  Will tells his wife and she's shocked that no one told them anything about this when they had bought the house.

The next day, the girls overhear a neighbor girl, Chloe Patterson (played by Rachel Fox) on their porch talking to someone on her cell phone saying "Everyone who moves into this house dies."  When Will hears this he goes across the street to talk to the neighbors and yes to complain about what their daughter had said, because it scared his kids.

When he gets to the neighbors, he encounters a something of a fight.  Chloe's father, Jack Patterson (played by Marton Czonkas) is there to pick her up, and he's complaining that his ex-wife (or soon to be ex-wife) Ann Patterson (played by Naomi Watts) doesn't have her ready.  Seeing Will, Jack sneers and making it clear that he's annoyed that Will's there.  In another encounter sometime later, Jack makes it clear that he thinks Will is some kind of a dangerous man.  Yet when Will talks with Jack's ex-wife (or soon to be ex-wife) Ann and at another time with Chloe, they treat him nicely.  At the same time, the "idyllic house" in which Will and his family have moved into becomes more and more run-down with each scene.  What's going on?

Well the story gets more interesting when Will and his wife Libby start looking through some of the clippings and microfilm left strewn around in the basement by those teens in their "shrine."  Apparently, a family of four with two little girls had lived in the house before and one evening the wife and the two daughters had been killed.  The husband, grazed in the head had been taken away to a psychiatric institute, incapable of standing trial.  And the whole family looked just like theirs.  Will finds a clipping in a recent newspaper that the father, a Peter Porter, had recently been released from the psychiatric institution "for lack of evidence against him" and had been moved to a half-way house.  He looks up the half-way house, doesn't find Porter, but he does find a picture of him and his family there.  So who is he, really?  Will Attenton or Peter Porter?

Well he goes to the psychiatric institute and discovers that both the patients and the staff know him (as a patient).  Even his own boss, who encouraged him at the beginning of the movie regarding his writing ability is there, though now she's a resident psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Greeley.  She begs him to voluntarily institutionalize himself now telling him that he's "not fit to live in the outside world."

Will leaves the psychiatric institution and goes home.  He is now convinced that he's probably Peter Porter but when he comes home, his family (and especially his wife) simply don't believe that they are dead.  Stranger still is that that despite him having been locked-up in a psychiatric institution, both Ann and her daughter Chloe continue to treat him sympathetically.  Indeed Chloe, becomes convinced that Will/Peter really can see his former family and asks him (since she would have been the same age as his daughters when they had been murdered) to tell his daughters how much she misses them.

How to resolve all this?  Well the movie makes an attempt to tie it all together.  Is it convincing?  I'd leave that up to those who decide to see the movie.  I'm not sure it does succeed in tying everything together and many of the major critics have chosen not to review the film...

Still there are some really heart rending scenes in the later stages of the film, which if one likes to occasionally cry at the movies give one plenty of opportunities to do so.  For at the center of the story (or "the story") is a terrible tragedy in which an apparently happy little family is suddenly violently cut-down (how ever it may have happened and for whatever reason/reasons it may have happened) and the only survivor is forced to continue his life alone without the others.  And that is certainly very, very sad indeed.

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