Dream House Explained: What Really Happened?

Dream House is a 2011 psychological crime thriller directed by Jim Sheridan. The film follows a family who has recently bought and moved into a house only to realize that the previous resident killed his family there years ago and the murderer might be back. The cast has Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts in the leading roles; interestingly, all three are Britishers playing roles as Americans. The film has a couple of twists, nothing that you can’t guess, but it’s a good catch-up film. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Dream House explained.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Dream House: Plot Explained

What we think is going on

what we think is going on

The film’s first part has us believe that a man named Will Atenton has recently bought and moved into a new house with his wife Libby and his two children. Soon we find out that 5 years ago, a man named Peter Ward murdered his family in this house. Now, Will and his family seem to be stalked by a mysterious person they assume is Peter. As a result, Will heads to the mental asylum where Peter is being treated at.

Who is Will Atenton (W1-1L 8-10-10)?

It is revealed that Will is Peter Ward, who was shot in the head when he was brought to the hospital 5 years ago; he was charged with the murder of his family. Unable to face the death of his family and the possibility that he might have been responsible, Peter takes on a new personality by the name Will Atenton based on the ID on his tag: W1-1L 8-10-10. After 5 years, Peter is eventually discharged, and he goes out into the world as Will. In the first scene of Dream House, we see Will quitting his job to become a writer. But that was only in his mind, he was being discharged, and all the people we see as his colleagues are actually other patients or workers at the mental facility.

Here is what I find odd. There was no proof that Peter was the murderer. Sure. But he’s still an individual refusing his own identity. Wouldn’t that mean he needed more treatment? I’m not sure why he was discharged.

Peter returns as Will Atenton to his own house, which is now dilapidated; however, he imagines his family to be alive and happy. But the trip to the mental hospital causes the realization that he is Peter and that he is all alone to come crashing down on him.

Who is Ann?

Ann is the neighbour from across the street and was a close friend of Peter and Libby. Ann’s daughter, Chloe, was a close friend of Peter’s girls. Ann is a divorcee, and she and her ex-husband, Jack, share custody of Chloe. Back when Peter was institutionalized, Ann tried her best to help, which is why we see her in the footage at the institution. After Peter returns, Ann is taken aback when he introduces himself as Will Atenton and has no memories of her. This is why Ann behaves strangely around Will (Peter) and is surprised to learn that he still sees his family.

Dream House Ending Explained: What really happened?

dream house what is really going on

The ending of the movie Dream House reveals that Jack hired a man named Boyce to kill Ann and get back the custody of his house and daughter. Mistakenly, Boyce enters Peter’s house, and when confronted, he shoots Libby and the kids. During the struggle, a dying Libby shoots at Boyce but clips Peter instead, causing him to become an amnesiac and the primary murder suspect.

Umm, seriously now, how low was Jack’s budget for the murder? He hired a guy who got the address wrong, landed up without a mask, noticed that the woman was not Jack’s wife, and there were two kids instead of one. Instead of making the run for it, he decides to massacre a random family. Where did Jack get this guy?

Jack’s Plan

jacks plan

Boyce’s goof-up leaves Jack disgruntled, duh. 5 years later, when Peter returns to the house, Jack finds it appropriate to finish what he once started. Interestingly, he also finds it appropriate to hire Boyce, the address forgetting assassin, again. Jack and Boyce chloroform Peter and Ann, take them to the basement and set the house on fire. Jack uses this opportune moment to shoot his low-budget child-killing assassin and leaves him for dead. Peter gains consciousness and manages to wack Jack on the head and escapes the house with Ann. As Jack tries to leave, Boyce returns the favour by setting Jack on fire with some left-over gasoline.

Dream House: Was Libby a ghost or just Peter’s imagination?

The movie Dream House suggests that Libby was a ghost. We see her interact with the wind-chimes, and some of the scenes are shown from her perspective. However, I find that Libby being a ghost, who could affect objects around her, is a weak element in the film as she could have done a lot more in the climax to save Peter and Ann (push Jack onto the fires, perhaps?). 

I would like to interpret Libby to be a figment of Peter’s imagination. His belief that she is still by his side gives him the strength to get up and overcome Jack in the end. What about the moving wind-chimes? Well, the house was on fire. Things were bound to move around and make noise. I don’t think a burning house needs the help of a ghost to shake things up. What we see could merely be Peter imagining Libby helping him out by distracting Jack.

In the end, we see Peter going back into the house, making peace with the fact that his family is no more, saying his goodbyes to them, collecting his journal and exiting the house. While not shown in the film, Ann would have testified against Jack for trying to kill them, proving that Peter was innocent all along. Peter’s dignity is restored, and he uses his experience to write his successful novel called Dream House.

What did you think about the movie Dream House and its ending? Comment with your thoughts on the film in the section below.