Director: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stepehen McHattie, Juliette Lewis, Henry Rollins, Tomas Lemarquis
Run Time: 92 mins
"Dreamland" is a weird trip of a movie. Much like the title suggests is offers a curious tableau of dreamlike scenes that skates over a variety of genres - from crime to comedy to fantasy to horror. Not that this should come as any great surprise as it comes from cult director Bruce McDonald. And particularly given it sees him re-team with both the writer (Tony Burgess) and star (Stephen Mchattie) of his cult horror hit "Pontypool."
Given that fact, the question quickly becomes, can this film live up to "Pontypool"? So not to prolong the wait, the simple answer is no, no it does not. In fact, if there is a film in McDonald's filmography, it bears most resemblance to it would be "Hellions." A film that was similarly a surreal hodge-podge of ideas and visual styles. Not that "Dreamland" is ever quite as bad or aimless as that film (even if it does sail close on occasion).
The main reason it is never as bad is McHattie, without whom the movie would not work. His work in a dual role as both a ruthless assassin with a heart and a virtuoso jazz musician with a heroin problem is quite captivating. It hardly needs to be noted that McHattie is a singular talent. But the mixture of his particular rough-hewn look and the unique intensity he brings to each role leaves an impact. He raises the level of pretty much every scene he is in, and every scene without him is notable by his absence. Not that, to be fair, much of the rest of the cast is given much to work with.
Take Juliette Lewis. Who usually is such a memorable presence is given hardly anything to do as a malevolent countess - of the kind who holds lavish parties for gun-runners and tinpot dictators. It feels like it should be a juicy role that should be accompanied by an excellent scenery-chewing performance. Instead, it is entirely one-dimensional, and Lewis, for all her screeching, seems oddly flat.
You may be surprised to learn in amongst the weirdness there is actually a plot (of sorts). The central story focusing on Mchattie's assassin, who is ordered by a ruthless gangster (Henry Rollins) to bring him the finger of the aforementioned jazz musician. A plot that then intersects with a few sub-plots, including a weird wedding and child trafficking (more on which later).
The most considerable frustration here is not so much the movie is terrible but that it seems to have the potential to be very good. There are certainly a few great scenes. The most memorable being an oddball pawn shop robbery gone wrong and the bloody wedding reception finale. There is also a particularly out-of-left-field and amusing moment involving a group of schoolboy hitmen. In these moments, you remember what a wonderful off-kilter talent McDonald can be. Add to this McHattie's performance, an enjoyable outing from Rollins and a great atmospheric jazz score, and you can sometimes be fooled to thinking we are onto a winner.
However, none of these elements can cover up the film's flaws. From its on-the-nose visual metaphors to the sluggish pacing to the sense, none of it adds up to much. There is also a sense of proceedings being weird for the sake of being weird. Like, one character is a vampire….because….you know kooky, right? Sure the character is the brother of the countess, and so it could be they are likening the human monsters among the uber-wealthy elite to actual monsters, but it is a bit clichéd if that is the case.
All of which brings us neatly to the biggest flaw here. Namely, when the movie's wacky ongoing comes up against the real world. Particularly when the focus lands on child trafficking, a sensitive subject matter that is treated in such a frivolous and throwaway manner here, it can't help but leave a sour taste. Plus, any attempts satire on inequality and the privileged class' gross excesses provide to be both toothless and as subtle as a hammer being thrown at a large bag of spanners.
Overall: The very definition of a mixed bag. An excellent central performance and a few other interesting elements failing ultimately to overcome its numerous flaws. In the end, it is one of those curious films which seem kind of okay when you watch it but gets increasingly worse the more you think about it.
Dreamland is available on demand and on digital from June 5th
Watch the trailer for "Dreamland" here