Will Atenton is a high-profile, Manhattan publisher who has finally decided to retire and leave the big city behind to relocate his wife Libby and their two daughters to a quaint New England town where he can write his long planned novel. As with most house moves, the couple spend most of their time stamping their own personality on the home by decorating and, along the way, discovering things about the previous occupants. But looks can be deceiving and their idyllic home hides a startling secret.
Not long after moving in the children overhear Chloe, a teenager who lives nearby, talking to someone on her phone about how their new house and how everyone who moves in dies. With a couple of scared children now on his hands, Will decides to talk to the Chloe's mother Ann about her daughter. Unfortunately, she's not really that helpful and is a little suspicious of the arrival of the family. Matters aren't helped by Ann's ex-husband Jack turning up who takes an instant dislike to him.
As Will digs deeper the family discover that their beloved dream home has a history of murder - a brutal murder where a father named Peter Ward killed his wife and two kids in cold blood. But when Will dares to delve further into the mysteries of the house, not only do the police and the majority of the neighbours avoid the family, he discovers that Peter Ward has been released from a mental institution. And when the children are startled by a stranger lurking in the darkness outside, Will finds someone is watching their every move.
With the mystery and tension deepening by the day, the only clue eventually comes from his neighbour. Together with Ann, Will starts to piece together a haunting puzzle. It's a puzzle which needs to lead him to the murderer before he returns to kill again.
The film spends most of its time in the Atenton's house with varying degrees of light throughout. Whilst the Blu-ray will undoubtly cope with the challenge of reproducing dark interior and exterior images, the DVD puts up a good fight. With an above average bit-rate throughout and some solid black levels, the occasionally soft images are good with no signs of either artifacting or outlining. Also, given that this is a recent release, there are no signs of print damage too.
I would have thought there'd be room on the disc for something higher than Dolby Digital 384Kbps soundtrack provided, but dig a little deeper and you'll find additional soundtracks in Castilian, Spanish and French. Whilst the soundtrack isn't as involving I'd hoped, it still manages to produce some decent surround activity from the front and back stages whilst providing a nice rumble from the LFE channel. With plenty of dialogue to take in it's important that this is clear and audible. Fortunately it is well balanced in the front stereo channels without cross channel bleeding whilst the musical score helps add to the drama.
The menu system is a fairly basic one with a scattering of options on a static but hauntingly scored menu. Extras wise, the Blu-ray edition comes with a couple of additional featurettes whilst the DVD comes with a rather miserly single featurette - the five minute Building the Dream House. Warner are also providing a free digital download of the film via Flixster's UltraViolet digital download/streaming service so you, once registered, you can watch the film on the move on either your Android, iPhone or iPad. It's certainly a useful feature and something which might help cut down on piracy, but I do wish everybody would adopt the same media streaming format so you don't have to install umpteen different applications on your phone and hope that your television supports whatever format is used.
But back to the five minute Building the Dream House featurette. Although the only extra on the DVD, it's still worthy of a look in as it goes on to prove that a director doesn't always need fancy special effects to get the desired results - simply lighting a set in a specific way or cutting away from a scene in a particular way can be just as effective. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, director Jim Sheridan, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, art director Elinor Rose Galbraith and special effects supervisor Sophie Vertigan are on hand to provide an insight into how the house was created. With plenty of behind the scenes footage, clips and stills from the film, it all adds up to an interesting - albeit rather short - featurette.
After watching the film I discovered that Dream House had been pretty much panned by every critic going plus it suffered from internal strife which left the actors pretty much washing their hands of the entire production. In a way, discovering all of this after watching the film was fortunate as, if I'd decided to read more into this first, and even watching the theatrical trailer, then it would have ended up completely spoiling the film. This made things all the more interesting as , for once in a long time of watching films, I had one of those "Well, I never spotted that coming" moments - although from then on, which interestingly enough came at the film's midpoint, it was then pretty obvious what the outcome of the film would be.
Without spoiling the plot for potential viewers of Dream House, it's a film which borrows ideas from a number of genres without really finding its true path. It's just like M Night Shyalaman's later films which, after so much promise, ended up lacking that little something. Given this, it appears that there were plenty of disagreements going on behind the scenes with director Jim Sheridan feuding over control of the film with Morgan Creek producer Jim Robinson. Considering that I'd never heard of the film, and with a cast line up of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, you have to wonder that something is wrong when its spent a year hiding under the radar.
With a high value cast and a great point in the film which I never saw coming, Dream House is a much maligned film. Sure, once you've seen it the once it'll be hard to warrant multiple viewings (although you may wish to go back and review things you may have missed first time around), but the wide ranging criticism is a little overblown and unfair. If anything, it will have probably resulted from American audiences not "getting it" and having to think for themselves about what's going on. It may not be worthy of a purchase, but as a quite an enjoyable and watchable film, a rental should most definitely be considered. Just remember, if you don't want to spoil the suprise then try to avoid watching any trailers for the film.
- Building the Dream House featurette