Review: “Dream House”

1. I'm not sure what happened to "Dream House" in between the time production wrapped and the film was released -- there have certainly been rumors -- but suffice it to say, the final product looks like it was assembled in a Cuisinart. I almost mean that literally; the film hops from one scene in an order that feels random, like it was spackled together from five different movies by drawing straws. The end result is a film that may have made sense at one point but is borderline incomprehensible as is.

2. It's tough to figure out what's going on throughout much of "Dream House." We meet Will Atenton (Daniel Craig, who honestly looks like he has no idea what's going on), a book editor who decides to retire and live in a rustic Connecticut estate with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and his adorable children. Shortly after they move in -- I think; the movie is not so good with the basic passage of time -- strange things start happening, and then an enigmatic neighbor (Naomi Watts) keeps coming by and walking away without saying anything, and there are teenagers under the house having seances for a triple murder that happened at the house five years ago. These opening scenes are clumsy and plodding, but they at least seem to be establishing a consistent worldview. They seem to be at least be occupying the same film.

3. Then things get weird. I'm not going to give away any plot spoilers, except to say that the film turns from a hacky "Amityville Horror" retread to a hacky mashup of "The Others" and "Shutter Island." If this is disorienting to you, don't worry: It's about to morph into "What Lies Beneath," and then "Panic Room" and then just all kinds of things that don't make any sense. In all seriousness, "Dream House" was so obviously cobbled together from endless reshoot messes that you can not only see the scars, you can still see the stitches. One character is introduced in the beginning of the film, not seen for an hour, then not seen for another half hour, and then ... he (or she, lest I be accused of spoiling something so tattered and confused that there's really not much to spoil) was at the center of it all along! The movie changes strategies, structure and mood every 10 or 15 minutes or so; it's basically like the weather in Florida.

4. I've been spending much of this week fretting about how in the world Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan ("In America," "My Left Foot") could have gone so wrong, but I feel a little bit better about the guy now. It's clear Sheridan, even though that's his name on the closing credits, lost control of this mess a long time ago; this looks more like one of those writing exercises where one author writes one paragraph, then another writes the next, and so on until you have a completed book. This isn't a Sheridan film; this is committee pastiche. The actors all have the numb, removed look of people who know the project they're in a disaster and are just trying to muddle through so they're not sued for breach of contract. It is a testament to the skill and professionalism of the major stars that none of them lose their dignity. They just look like they're ready to go home.

5. The crack team of Universal editors charged with trying to pull together a narrative out of this stew didn't quite pull it off, but they do deserve credit for whittling the running time down to 92 minutes. Nothing holds together at all -- whole plot threads are just dropped midstream, as the movie staggers drunkenly along -- but at least it whimpers off the stage without causing any pain for longer than necessary. This is a sunken wreck from the get-go, and everyone involved knows it and just tries to get away. They do, all told. Collectively, you suspect Sheridan and his cast will try to move along with their life and forget this movie ever wasted so much of their time. I wish them luck. I think they can do it. I know I did.

Grade: D