June 1, 2020 Dreamland (Movie Review)
Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins, and Stephen McHattie star in the Horror Crime Thriller Dreamland, which arrives On Demand and Digital, as of Friday, June 5th, 2020, thanks to Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures.
The story of a dead-eyed hitman who fancies himself a savior of sorts, Dreamland centers around the most dramatic marital affair since Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding. At the palace, arrangements for the grand event are underway, and controlled by the whims of the outrageous Countess (Lewis: Cape Fear 1991, I Know This Much Is True mini-series). Oh, and have we mentioned that the tender nuptials are to take place between her beloved brother, a vampire (Tómas Lemarquis: X-Men: Apocalypse 2016, Blade Runner 2049 2017), and unwilling bride-to-be, fourteen-year-old Olivia (Themis Pauwels: Suite Française 2014, Barrage 2017)?
If that’s not strange enough, the bride is being provided by local crime boss, and owner of the Al Queda club, Hercules (Rollins: Johnny Mnemonic 1995, Masters of the Universe: Revelation mini-series), who has just dipped his toes into the sex trafficking business. Despite protests from his go-to hitman, Hercules insists that he will continue to sell young girls. Olivia, however, can be saved from her wretched fate if our nameless assassin can pony up the pinkie finger of the infamous jazz musician known as Maestro (McHattie: Pontypool 2008, Watchmen 2009).
Unbeknownst to each other, all these characters are about to rendezvous at Luxembourg’s wedding of the century—and not everyone will leave with their pinkies intact! Clocking in at 92 minutes, Dreamland was directed by Bruce McDonald (Pontypool 2008, Weirdos 2016) and written by Tony Burgess (Pontypool 2008, Fuck My Friends 2018) and Patrick Whistler (Creeped Out series, Cardinal series). The film also features the acting talents of Lisa Houle (Pontypool 2008, Flashpoint series), Morgan Csarno-Peklar, Guillaume Kerbusch (The Break series, The Command 2018), Stéphane Bissot (The Child 2005, Our Children 2012), Sam Louwyck (Brimstone 2016, Cargo 2017), and many more.
Dreamland made its world premiere at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in 2019, as well as its North American premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in the same year. Released in the UK in April 2019, it has finally made its way across the pond to U.S. shores. Billed as a Horror Crime Thriller, the film is a genre-fluid blend that can be better described as a Neo-Noir Crime Fantasy. A decidedly niche offering, Dreamland is apt to appease a very select audience—many of whom are already fans of McDonald and McHattie’s very first collaboration, 2008’s Pontypool.
Taking viewers on a trip that intentionally defies logic, McDonald has let it be known that the film is a sequel, of sorts, “to a coda at the end of the credits in Pontypool.” Beyond this tidbit, we can tell you that Dreamland is definitely niche, and its whirligig plot is apt to make your head spin. Its languid intensity builds slowly through a highly-controlled mood, before the cauldron of tension boils over into an outlandishly amusing massacre that takes place to McHattie’s own breathy cover of The Eurythmics “I Saved the World Today.” Sardonic? Absolutely. Tack on artful transitions shot by talented cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout (Rosie 1998, Love & Friendship 2016) between key scenes, and an extraordinary original, jazzy score from Jonathan Goldsmith (Visiting Hours 1982, Take This Waltz 2011), and you have a carefully crafted production.
Thus, it’s hard to simply write Dreamland off as a vehicle for the talents of McHattie; though, at the same time, the film is proof-positive that the man is phenomenal. Spoiler alert: McHattie portrays both the drug-addicted Jazz trumpeter Maestro and the infamous hitman Johnny Deadeyes. As he stars alongside himself, offers up a moving vocal performance in the film’s epic finale, and attaches a new fear to cigar cutters, McHattie is a tour de force. There are no Chuck Palahniuk surprises intended here—or are there? That’s for each viewer to decide, and the actor never makes that decision easy. Altering his voice and his visage for each of his characters, he presents two distinct entities who are likely to confound viewers and challenge their sanity.
Meanwhile, much of the film’s dark humor comes to us thanks to Rollins, who gets bombastic in his role as the demented Hercules. He goes so far as to offer the film’s most untasteful, non-PC moment, in the form of a very crass joke aimed at Lemarquis’ giddy vampire. Speaking of which, Lemarquis spends the bulk of his time on screen smiling like a serial killer and being truly unnerving. Similarly, as his sister, Lewis is, as always, brilliant. Radiantly rotten and glowing with over-the-top ridiculousness, this is not a film that focuses heavily on her character, but Lewis makes the most of her time to shine.
With such a noteworthy cast of talents, as well as an equally exceptional behind-the-scenes crew, Dreamland presents a peculiar, genre-fluid experience that intertwines black comedy with its need to bend your mind like a cinematic acid trip. Everything about the film is a puzzle that few will even attempt to solve, but the ride is still a very intriguing one. Never overstaying its welcome, and bolstering its languid mood with an incredible score and stunning visual splendor, Dreamland defies reason in haute style. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Dreamland 4.5 of 5 stars.