100 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, January 15, 1999
Co-written & directed by Neil Jordan
Starring Annette Bening, Robert Downey, Jr., Stephen Rea & Adian Quinn
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 30%|
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
Cheap horror movies are often more fun at home, but this cheap horror movie is pretentiously dressed up as something more prestigious and won't be any less insultingly exploitive and manipulative on the small screen Cinematography plays a large part in the atmosphere, letterbox would be prefered.
"In Dreams" high-rent horror masquerading as a psychological thriller
This year's first cold body buried in the cinematic graveyard of late January is "In Dreams," a high-rent horror flick masquerading as an entry in that more prestigious genre, the Psychological Thriller (a la "Silence of the Lambs").
Co-written and directed by Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game," "The Butcher Boy") and based on a Bari Wood novel called "Doll's Eyes," it is little more than a somebody-stole-my-baby version of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," with a cast of honorable but affordable players to lend it the veneer of credibility.
One of those tear-at-your-heart, pump-your-adrenaline stories designed to compel you to watch when you'd rather turn away, it's about a grieving mother (Annette Bening) with an unexplained psychic connection with the whack job (Robert Downey, Jr.) that murdered her little girl.
Maybe I've become a softy, but I'm not at all clear why anyone would want to pay $8 to watch something this purposeless and deliberately unpleasant. In this case, however, my discomfort is beside the point. "In Dreams" uses its semi-pedigree players -- Bening, Downey and Jordan regular Stephen Rea as a shrink -- to masque its heart of abject and sordid shock-value.
Jordan employs art-house versions of B-movie techniques (lunging, hand-held cinematography; shadowy, fish-eye-lensed dream sequences; flashlight beams bobbing through a misty forest) and inspires a habitually admirable performance from Bening as she teeters on the brink of madness while her mind is invaded by murderous nightmares that soon come true.
But no matter how much money is thrown at "In Dreams" by way of casting and darkly copious production design, it doesn't change the fact that this story turns on shameless emotional extortion.
It's hard to watch this movie without wondering how it found its way to the big screen instead of turning up on USA Network with Virginia Madsen and Rob Lowe in the leads.
What the filmmakers in this emerging genre of disturbingly realistic horror (e.g. "Kiss the Girls") fail to realize is that serial killers are only entertaining as caricatures (Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger) or disturbed geniuses (Hannibal Lecter). Otherwise, they're just the same sickos we see on the nightly news, devoid of any allure outside the documentary realm and the purulent interest of lowest-common denominator TV drama.
That such respected players attached themselves to this project did nothing to elevate it beyond this very base appeal and only serves to make them look as if they're in need of new agents.