Somehow, there's something even more icky about an exploitative and
routine horror film that tarts up its exploitation and routineness with
plenty of style. Such is the case with Neil Jordan's IN DREAMS, a
psychological thriller which lets its atmospheric creepiness disintegrate
into a trite chase-n-terrorize puree. Annette Bening stars as Claire
Cooper, a Massachusetts-based children's book illustrator with a
picture-book life: lovely rural New England home, loving husband Paul
(Aidan Quinn), beautiful young daughter Rebecca (Katie Sagora) and loyal
dog Dobie. She also posesses a spark of psychic ability which she has had
all her life, one which seems to be getting stronger as she has visions
connected to the disappearance of a local schoolgirl. Then Rebecca is
abducted, and Claire comes to believe that she is psychically connected to
a serial killer -- and that the killer is similarly connected to her.
For a while, it looks like IN DREAMS is going to be a thriller of a
different stripe, something as dramatically and visually compelling as it
is viscerally shocking. Darius Khondji, the gifted cinematographer behind
SEVEN, gives IN DREAMS the same menacing silver tint and twisted light,
including an eerie opening underwater sequence in a submerged town. The
story takes Claire on a descent into genuine madness, the kind that makes
a character truly unpredictable and interesting to watch. Bening is a
superb actress, and she makes the most of Claire fumbling for answers with
the last shreds of her sanity. The script also presents the idea that the
killer is a tormented soul who wants Claire to catch him, setting up a
potentially complex relationship when they finally do meet.
Gradually, however, IN DREAMS starts to lose its way. Partly it
seems rushed, with scenes slammed together too quickly to develop the
necessary foreboding. Partly it seems sloppy, increasingly depending on
ridiculous contrivances (Claire being confined in exactly the same room
once occupied by the killer, for instance) and the blandly
counter-productive analysis of Claire's psychiatrist (Jordan regular
Stephen Rea, sporting a distracting accent). And partly it seems
mean-spirited, using graphic murders for shock value or imperiled children
for sympathy value, rather than building interest in the characters. Over
its final 45 minutes, IN DREAMS begins a slow but steady descent from
potent psychological thriller to careless mess.
And then, when Robert Downey Jr. finally appears as the killer
Vivian, it careens out of control entirely. Decked out in flowing red
tresses and whispering in an effeminate drawl, Downey exercises every
ghastly overacting muscle in his body simultaneously. To be fair to
Downey, the role is a serial killer cliche -- he's a Norman Bates momma's
boy with serious gender role issues -- without a remotely sympathetic
quality, dashing hopes of a mind-game showdown into the rocks. Instead
it's all guns and sharp objects, running and screaming, until a bleak,
unsatisfying and confounding resolution. It's a huge disappointment
coming from Neil Jordan, a film-maker who has consistently made films that
defied expectations -- THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, THE CRYING GAME, THE BUTCHER
BOY. In a sad way, that's exactly what he does here. Just when you
expect IN DREAMS might turn out to be a memorably disturbing horror film,
it turns out to be a gutless, nihilistic tease.
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 daydream believers: 4.
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