It is going to be a snowy weekend in Ontario, so why not stay in, listen to our winter playlist, Snowmaggeddon Rock, or watch a winter cabin movie. In today’s Rockwood Cinema Review we take a look at Dreamcatcher (2003). A really divisive movie amongst horror/sci-fi fans and Stephen King fans alike. Some like it and some don’t care for it, like staying in a winter cottage with no running water.
Based on a Stephen King book, Dreamcatcher has many of the same tropes you see throughout Stephen King’s work: childhood friends bonded by some supernatural phenomenon (here a psychic bond between the core group and special needs child); a common foe or bully; all against the backdrop of a small town. However, most importantly for the sake of our movie reviews, it is set in….a cabin (during winter). The winter cabin is also another recurring motif seen throughout other Stephen King movies, e.g. The Shining (1980), Misery (1990) and another movie we reviewed, Secret Window (2004). However, this movie is in a different category altogether. What category, you ask? Maybe all of them.
Dreamcatcher follows a group of childhood friends Henry (played by Thomas Jane), Beaver (played by Jason Lee), Pete (played by Timothy Olyphant) and the main protagonist Jonesy (played by Damian Lewis), who retreat to a winter cabin ever year. These friends all live rather unremarkable, sad, lonely lives but are united in their friendship, particularly to their childhood friend, Duddits, a special needs child they protected in their childhood (who is conspicuously absent).
So, here in their 20th year, they do all sorts of normal winter cabin activities. They get the fireplace going, drink some beers, reconnect and talk trash at each other’s expense. That is about as normal as it gets, once an impending storm brings in some unwanted house guests. I will not spoil all the twist and turns but Dreamcatcher opens up can after can of worms that it cannot fully commit to.
What first begins as a film about some sort of psychic phenomenon moves likes an abrupt storm into a plague / biohazard film. However, because that doesn’t quite fit, out of its butt comes a creature-feature with aliens trying to possess human hosts. When that doesn’t work, you call in the army. But not just any army, but an army lead by Morgan Freeman and his militant sidekick, played by Tom Sizemore and what you have is Independence Day on a independent budget. But wait…sorry this film cost how much?
CORRECTION: this was film was made for $68,000,000, Independence Day was $75,000,000. Dreamcatcher grossed $81,240,406, Independence Day grossed $817,400,891. But who is comparing. Is Dreamcatcher a good movie?
Well, Dreamcatcher is more like a draincatcher, haplessly trying to grab on to anything: plague film, catastrophe film, psychic film, ghost in the machine film, alien invasion film, possession film, and government conspiracy film. But like running water, all of these genres pass through. What’s left is the muck that sits in the catch, that is a lot of gross out horror and undercooked performances. This is not like alien possession films of Cronenburg, like your Shivers (1975) or Rabid (1977). This is a less serious horror movie that would probably appeal more to your Sharknado (2013) crowd. Dreamcatcher requires a little more than suspension of disbelief, at times, it requires suspensions of good taste and patience. It is too long and even with all that time it can’t faithfully commit to one narrative.
Perhaps, I am being too judgemental as it has two of my least favourite actors: Jason Lee, who again plays the chatty neurotic and the Timothy Olyphant. Although they are not my first picks, there performances are actually not bad in this. Jason Lee is actually pretty tolerable and dialed back here and Timothy Olyphant does a pretty good job fighting with a CG monster that isn’t there. On the contrary, Damian Lewis is laughably unconvincing as the split personality, half himself and half-alien with British accent. Also, Thomas Jane seems all but unmoved when he returns back to the horrific scene at the cabin. His reaction is equivalent to finding out the racoons had rummaged through the cottage garbage bin. Garbage feast indeed.
There are many unanswered questions in Dreamcatcher, including: why is the worm monster part phallus with a vagina-dentata mouth? All the men in some respect have failed interpersonal relationships with the other sex but they never really go there. There are simply too many narratives happening to fully make all these pieces fit nicely. The disembodied Jonesy viewing his actions as a spectator through the window after the alien possess him is just bizarre. But like many things in this movie it is a bloody butt trail that goes nowhere.
The good news, it is pretty mindless entertainment. You may have to separate your mind from anything that resembles good sense but there is some clever cinematography, for instance the arial shot of the snow covered tree tops with the winding road, an obvious head nod to Kubrick’s The Shining, albeit from a different perspective. Another feature that makes Dreamcatcher unique, is that it is not strictly set in winter. The story flashes back to their childhood and take place during more sunnier climbs. So, if you are watching this stuck indoors because of the snow its a little sweet relief. And as such you could watch it during the summer as a interesting contrast.
On top of all this it is a movie with a Canadian connection with a majority of it filmed throughout British Columbia (Vancouver, Burnaby, Abbotsford, Richmond, Prince George). Not that many rock n roll references here but the movie does feature Roy Orbinson “Blue Bayou”.
Length: 1h 36m
Rated: R (Violence, Gore, Language)
Best time to watch: I would say a snowy afternoon when you have nothing better to do.