Derivative, for sure - but hardly a disaster.
That's my verdict on "Dream House," a thriller that's been universally reviled by mainstream critics.
Indeed, having noted a 6 percent approval rating at rottentomatoes.com, I was surprised to find that - despite several flaws - the film is clever, well acted and fairly absorbing.
Will Atenton, played by Daniel Craig, and Libby, played by Rachel Weisz, console their children in “Dream House,” a suspense thriller about a family that unknowingly moves into a home where several grisly murders were committed — only to find themselves as the killer’s next target.
Since I avoid reading reviews before writing my own, I can only assume the nay-sayers found this film too reminiscent of other haunted-house stories: A decent family moves into a nice suburban home, where terrible incidents from the past soon start invading their once-happy lives.
But the "secret from the past" motif is so prevalent in all kinds of horror films - not just haunted-house tales - that one can hardly fault it here; a larger problem is that "Dream House" also bears striking similarities to another recent thriller that I won't name - because if I did, you'd know where this new movie was going.
Yet even this twist - which, frankly, I never saw coming - is timed quite differently; and "Dream House" then heads off in a direction of its own. I found the whole thing quite compelling - until the very end, which is too predictable and sentimental.
If the first half of the film seems ridiculous, just be patient - screenwriter David Loucka may have borrowed broadly from the genre, but he's no dummy.
Much of the sometimes creaky plot is held together by strong performances from Daniel Craig as the father, Rachel Weisz as the mother and Naomi Watts as a neighbor who knows more than she's willing to tell.
Craig's character requires serious emotional gymnastics; even in the early scenes, we get glimpses of what might happen if he becomes truly enraged. With plenty of experience playing both heroes and villains, the actor masters every tricky nuance in this very trying role.
He and Weisz bring considerable conviction to one of filmdom's toughest jobs - making happy marriage seem both believable and exciting.
They're supported by fine work in smaller roles, particularly Jane Alexander as the husband's older friend and Brian Murray, brief but memorable as the chief of a psychiatric hospital.
This is not a typical project for director Jim Sheridan, and the strong sense of character he brought to such films as "In America" and "My Left Foot" is certainly evident in many scenes here.
As a critic, I appear to be virtually alone in this assessment. My seatmate, however, liked the film as well - and there was even a smattering of applause afterwards among the modest-sized crowd.
It's the nature of horror films to be derivative; if we can endure three versions of "The Thing" and seven sequels to "Nightmare on Elm Street," I can't see despising a haunted-house movie that sometimes recalls its forbears.