IN DREAMS (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence/Terror and Language

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Directed by: Neil Jordan

Written by: Bruce Robinson & Neil Jordan

(based on the novel DOLL’S EYES by Bari Wood)

Starring: Annette Bening, Katie Sagona, Aidan Quinn, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle & Stephen Rea

It’s a genuine shame when a film uses an incomprehensible plot and terrible acting, but also shows off great visuals and phenomenal music. Released in January (always a bad sign) during the late 90’s, IN DREAMS is a pretty looking mess of a horror film. The plot seems like a recycled mish-mash of better films from the 70’s and 80’s, sort of like a mixture of Wes Craven’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the John Carpenter penned EYES OF LAURA MARS. Though it has impressive atmosphere out the wazoo, the laughably bad performances and really dumb story soil the better technical qualities.

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Claire Cooper is a psychic who spends her days taking care of her young daughter and drawing pictures (whether they’re illustrations for children’s books or memories from her dreams). Unfortunately for Claire, her psychic visions and dreams take on a far more sinister tone when she mentally connects with a deranged serial killer loose in her small town. After her daughter becomes his latest victim, Claire’s fragile psyche is on the verge of splitting wide open and she pushes herself to stop the madman before he kills another child…much to the skepticism of everyone around her.

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IN DREAMS plays out like a supernatural horror flick crossed with an overly familiar plot from a straight-forward serial killer thriller. There are obviously some slight twists spun on the typical serial killer formula (the dream connection between Claire and the psycho), but this movie manages to feel like a Lifetime movie of the week due to bad pacing, a muddled script and thoroughly unlikable characters. Annette Bening has proven herself to be a wonderful actress in certain roles, but the part of Claire Cooper is probably a career low for her. Claire is an oddball lead from the beginning. Such little character development is thrown her way that I couldn’t help but see her character only as strictly one-dimensional flimsy excuse for a protagonist from beginning to end. Stephen Rea is wasted in the small role of a doctor, while Aidan Quinn plays Claire’s bland husband. Hands down, the worst/funniest performance in the entire film easily goes to Robert Downey Jr. as the crazed long-haired, robe-wearing serial killer. Every time that Downey Jr. tries to act frightening, it just comes off as unintentionally hilarious bordering on downright embarrassing.

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With piss-poor acting and a stupid/derivative script, IN DREAMS sounds like a complete failure with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Actually, there are a couple of nice things to say about this movie. The film is amazingly well shot with gorgeous visuals covered by a thick atmosphere. The soundtrack is also beautiful and elegantly creepy. These two qualities are pretty much soiled by moronic writing and silly acting though. It’s a real pity that a fantastic visual style and great soundtrack have been wasted on this tripe. A few lowlight scenes include Claire freaking out about a computer that apparently has been possessed by Robert Downey Jr.’s serial killer, an overuse of apples (don’t even ask), a mental breakdown involving covering the whole house in paint, and a climax that has been over analyzed beyond belief.

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IN DREAMS could possibly come off as a genuinely nightmarish and freaky experience…if one were to remove all the dialogue. This could potentially play out like a beautifully made CABINET OF CALIGARI-like surreal horror flick. Seeing as it keeps its roots firmly grounded in overly derivative territory, while also incorporating a by-the-numbers serial killer mystery, IN DREAMS amounts to nothing worth losing sleep over.

Grade: D

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