It’s always exciting when a filmmaker evidently has a unique vision for their movie. Sometimes, though, that vision gets lost in a soup of weirdness for weirdness’ sake. That’s the affliction that befalls Bruce McDonald — the cult director of Pontypool — with the crime-fantasy Dreamland. It’s a muddled journey through an underworld so murky that it’s impossible to make out any shapes through the fuzz.
Stephen McHattie, who previously appeared in Pontypool and showed up last year in the Soska Sisters’ masterful remake of Rabid, portrays both an unnamed hired gun and a trumpet player referred to simply as Maestro. The killer’s loathsome boss Hercules (Henry Rollins) hires him to dismember the finger of the Maestro for some perceived slight. Hercules, however, has branched into child sex trafficking, which McHattie’s hitman believes crosses a moral line. Soon, there’s a psychotic Countess (Juliette Lewis) and her brother (Tómas Lemarquis) — an actual vampire — in the mix.
There are dozens of ideas grappling for space at the heart of Dreamland, which makes it all the more disappointing that the resulting movie lacks any sort of shape or invention. It’s a drab dive into a neo-noir landscape that, at times, flirts with grit but, often, just seems unmoored in a strange fantasy arena without anything to hold it in place.
McHattie’s performances are both solid and might’ve been a stable anchor for a more coherent movie, but here he seems like he’s playing a completely different game to everyone else. Tómas Lemarquis channels the most malevolent edges of Richard O’Brien as a broadly comedic, air-licking vampire with a lust for children and Juliette Lewis chews scenery as the tyrannical host of an exclusive party for the rich.
There’s something in the latter element of the movie, particularly in a world where the “eat the rich” ideology is increasingly feeling like a practical way to approach life. Dreamland presents its climactic party as a maelstrom of chaotic debauchery, where guests dressed in purest white show that their moral compass is darkest black. There’s potent commentary in that concept, but it arrives too late in the day and with a shocking lack of depth.
Too often, McDonald’s movie just devolves into either shrieked hysterics or pretentious, neo-noir grub. When compared to similarly themed recent films like Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here or Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, this movie looks empty of both style and the accompanying substance. Even at under 90 minutes, it’s a tedious slog with nothing to say.
Dir: Bruce McDonald
Scr: Tony Burgess, Patrick Whistler
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Henry Rollins, Tómas Lemarquis, Juliette Lewis
Prd: Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira, Amber Ripley, Sebastian Schelenz
DOP: Richard Van Oosterhout
Music: Jonathan Goldsmith
Country: Canada, Luxembourg, Belgium
Run time: 89 mins
Dreamland is available on DVD and digital platforms in the UK now.