**Contains Some Spoilers**
Stephen McHattie (Come to Daddy, Pontypool) delivers another electrifying performance in Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) mesmerising, genre-bending, neo-noir, Dreamland.
The film’s title offers a sense of twisted irony given the thematically dark subject matters McDonald and writers Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler present in the film. In a surreal, dystopian city, a ruthless gangland boss, named Hercules (Henry Rollins- He Never Died/Lost Highway) enlists the services of a complicated killer (McHattie) to bring him the severed finger of a heroin addicted, jazz musician (also played by McHattie). The bizarre plot makes for an oddly compelling viewing experience drawing the audience in to eagerly anticipate which unusual trajectory the film will take next.
McHattie shines in his dual role as gangster, Johnny and The Trumpet Player. He is the anti-hero of the piece, where despite committing heinous crimes, his heart is in the right place especially when it comes to protecting innocent children from the depraved aristocracy of society. Johnny isn’t whiter than white but compared to the other unsavoury characters that feature, he is easily the one to root for. There isn’t a great deal of character development when it comes to his second role in the film as The Trumpet Player, though there’s something enigmatic about his presence and in how Johnny is drawn to him. What needs to be understood about Dreamland is that it isn’t heavy on the exposition and leaves enough to be mustered up in the imagination. Essentially, what you see it what you get with the freedom to interpret your own meaning from the piece, therefore McHattie’s turn at playing two characters is another added quirky characteristic to the film’s overall storytelling approach.
Heny Rollins is at his villainous best as the merciless gangland boss, he is nihilistic and prides himself with a false sense of self-importance. His inflated ego provides the opportunity for the audience to mock him and take him less seriously, finding him less threating than he professes to be, especially when our anti-hero has no qualms in taking him on.
Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers/Cape Fear) is an absolute joy in the film bringing along an infectious quirkiness and comedic eccentricity to her role as The Countess, planning the perfect wedding for her blood-sucking brother. Yes- to add to the oddness, there is a skin crawling, paedophilic vampire in this film, excellently played by Tómas Lemarquis (X-Men: Apocalypse).
Dreamland is visually hypnotic opting for a clear arthouse approach within the cinematography and its aesthetic which compliments the extraordinary world the film is set in. The costumes are stunning, evoking the 1950’s film noir style. Juliette Lewis appears like a Greek goddess in the look the film has chosen for her character. The pivotal wedding scene showcases the magnificent costumes in all their glory, on the outside everything seems rather lavish which juxtaposes the dark underbelly of these unhinged wealthy characters being portrayed.
Throughout the film, a distorted jazz score can be heard accompanying the essence that nothing is as it seems. The music is omnipresent and is almost like its own character as it enhances the dream-like, dystopian world presented on screen.
Dreamland depicts scenes of violence in an artful and tasteful manner. Some truly horrifying things do happen, but it takes the more implied route leaving the viewer to only imagine the grotesqueness that is happening to these characters. McDonald’s direction is to be commended as he takes such a harrowing subject, in this case child abuse and approaches it respectfully without visualising any gratuity but does hammer the point across within the emblematic imagery.
Dreamland is a film that won’t be for everyone. It’s a semi-coherent fever dream that doesn’t try and explain itself in depth. It’s a movie to experience and take away from it what you will. Stylish, hypnotising and highly immersive, Dreamland is a cinematic experience that won’t be forgotten quickly nor is it an easy one to decipher but certainly does enough to provoke and features stellar performances from its acclaimed cast.
Dreamland is available on DVD and Digital from Monday the 13th April 2020.