×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In Dreams

Dark, scary and uncompromising, Neil Jordan's "In Dreams" is a wildly eccentric picture: a metaphysical horror tale that's likely to intrigue cerebral viewers but will frustrate the more typical horror crowd fond of "Scream" and its offshoots. In an extremely challenging role that calls for her to appear in almost every frame, Annette Bening gives a riveting performance as a woman whose mind is invaded by supernatural forces.

With:
Claire Cooper - Annette Bening Paul Cooper - Aidan Quinn Vivian Thompson - Robert Downey Jr. Detective Jack Kay - Paul Guilfoyle Dr. Stevens - Dennis Boutsikaris Dr. Silverman - Stephen Rea Mary - Prudence Wright Holmes Rebecca Cooper - Katie Sagona Ruby - Krystal Benn Ethel - Pamela Payton-Wright Nurse Floyd - Margo Martindale

Dark, scary and uncompromising, Neil Jordan’s “In Dreams” is a wildly eccentric picture: a metaphysical horror tale that’s likely to intrigue cerebral viewers but will frustrate the more typical horror crowd fond of “Scream” and its offshoots. In an extremely challenging role that calls for her to appear in almost every frame, Annette Bening gives a riveting performance as a bright, married career woman whose mind is invaded by irrational and supernatural forces. Well-mounted, with startling imagery from ace lenser Darius Khondji, DreamWorks’ release should enjoy a decent opening, but iffy reviews and unenthusiastic word-of-mouth will curtail B.O., due to an intense, convoluted narrative with a downbeat tone and shockingly unconventional ending, which doesn’t provide the genre’s customary pay-off.

“In Dreams” is not as flawed as Jordan’s other big budget Hollywood movies, but it lacks the coherence and creative control of most of his small-scale Irish pictures. Mining similar terrain as “The Company of Wolves,” a horror film structured as an adult fairy tale, Jordan’s new effort — which also works as a fairy tale — might be similarly dismissed as seedy, lurid and mean-spirited.

Though the script, which concerns the relatively unexplored and scientifically taboo realm of clairvoyance, is based on a novel and written in collaboration with Bruce Robinson, those familiar with Jordan’s work will be able to detect familiar thematic motifs: lost childhood, the haunting of the mind by irrational and unconscious forces, gender-bending and cross-dressing, the inextricable effect of the past on the present and, above all, unusual pairings and psychological ambiguity.

Opening credits reveal a watery ghost town entirely buried by floods decades ago. The underwater motif enhances the yarn’s dimension of a hideous, seemingly forgotten past that comes to haunt the present residents of a now-idyllic pastoral town. Claire (Bening), a children’s books illustrator, is married to a loving pilot (Aidan Quinn), and they have a young daughter, Rebecca (Katie Sagona). But Claire’s modern marriage is strained by incessant dreams; even their lovemaking is interrupted by haunting images and sudden outbursts of violence.

Claire’s recurrent dreams reveal themselves in snippets and fragments: a little boy chained to a bed, a girl kidnapped by a faceless adult in an orchard of red apples. During one of her hubby’s business trips, Claire dreams of her daughter’s disappearance, and, sure enough, hours later, Rebecca’s body is lifted out of the lake by cops. In a manner of self-fulfilling prophecies, every single nightmare of Claire’s materializes. Driven to find out the true nature of her dreams — and those who annoyingly feed them — she becomes increasingly obsessed, eventually descending into madness and asylum institutionalization.

It may not be a coincidence that Jordan, a subversive filmmaker, constructs all the characters that stand for rationality as male authority figures: husband Cooper, detective Jack Kay (Paul Guilfoyle), hospital doctor Stevens (Dennis Boutsikaris) and Dr. Silverman (Stephen Rea), a specialist brought in to work intimately with Claire. And like other Jordan pictures, this one can be seen as a critique of the nuclear, bourgeois family.

A blend of psychological drama and supernatural horror, “In Dreams” is a movie in which nothing is what it appears to be. Through eerily dark destiny, the paths of Claire and a serial killer on the loose crisscross and their fates intertwine, underscoring their duality as two sides of the human psyche, with Claire representing the good and right, and he the evil and wrong.

Final reel, which is the weakest and most overheated visually, is confined to a cider factory, where Claire confronts her torturer. Echoing elements of “The Silence of the Lambs,” and far more respectful of generic conventions than earlier segments, finale is directed in an amusingly self-conscious and reflexive manner, allowing horror aficionados to have a smile or two while watching some of the most frightening moments, a result of the excessively quirky dialogue and some over-the-top acting.

Taken seriously, “In Dreams” provides a wry commentary on the medical and psychiatric professions, both quick to label Claire’s conduct as delusional if not paranoid. The film also refutes such established notions as scientific progress and rational pragmatism. Viewers skeptical of the film’s more metaphysical themes should still be able to appreciate the sense of dread that permeates the entire yarn. From the start, in a shrewdly Hitchcockian manner, Jordan implicates the viewers, placing them in Claire’s subjective mind, as they are the only ones to see the terrifying validity of her dreams.

In what’s arguably her most commanding role since “The Grifters,” Bening is perfectly cast as a recognizably contempo woman whose mind and life disintegrate to a point of no return. With limited screen time, mostly in the last reel, Robert Downey Jr. reps the underbelly of the dream world, an adult who has never really grown up, still childlike, misinformed, desperate to connect.

Rea, a Jordan regular, renders a low-key, understated performance as the doctor who initially symbolizes the rational element of culture, until his value system utterly collapses under the crushing evidence. Rest of the supporting ensemble is equally impressive.

Reversing Hollywood’s depiction of dream sequences — usually in black-and-white — lenser Khondji goes wild with colors, objects and textures. Color separation is achieved with filters that distort images, giving them a richly saturated, almost surreal feel. Though red dominates, each dream is staged and filmed in a radically different style, some with hand-held camera, others like still tableaux.

Shot in the fall in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee (for its dams) and Rosarito, Mexico (for the ghost town covered in water), pic represents one of DreamWorks most elaborately produced efforts, with superb technical values across the board.

In Dreams

Production: A DreamWorks Pictures release. Produced by Stephen Woolley. Co-producer, Redmond Morris. Directed by Neil Jordan. Screenplay, Bruce Robinson, Jordan, based on the novel, "Doll's Eyes," by Bari Wood.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Darius Khondji; editor, Tony Lawson; music, Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Nigel Phelps; art director, Martin Laing; set decorator, Gretchen Rau; costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland; sound (Dolby/SDDS), James J. Sabat; special effects supervisor, Yves De Bono; underwater photography, Peter Romano; assistant director, Patrick Clayton; casting, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins. Reviewed at Century Plaza, L.A., Jan. 11, 1999. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: Claire Cooper - Annette Bening Paul Cooper - Aidan Quinn Vivian Thompson - Robert Downey Jr. Detective Jack Kay - Paul Guilfoyle Dr. Stevens - Dennis Boutsikaris Dr. Silverman - Stephen Rea Mary - Prudence Wright Holmes Rebecca Cooper - Katie Sagona Ruby - Krystal Benn Ethel - Pamela Payton-Wright Nurse Floyd - Margo Martindale

More Film

  • Radegund

    Cannes Film Review: 'A Hidden Life'

    There are no battlefields in Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” — only those of wheat — no concentration-camp horrors, no dramatic midnight raids. But make no mistake: This is a war movie; it’s just that the fight shown raging here is an internal one, between a Christian and his conscience. A refulgent return to form [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    Box Office: 'John Wick 3' Knocks Down 'Avengers: Endgame' With $57 Million Debut

    Earth’s Mightiest Heroes put up a good fight, but John Wick put at end to the three-week box office reign of “Avengers: Endgame.” Propelled by positive reviews, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” beat expectations with a debut of $57 million from 3,850 North American locations. That was enough to nab the box office crown [...]

  • Game of Thrones Cast

    What's Next for 'Game of Thrones'' Cast Members

    Eight years and eight seasons later, the “Game of Thrones” cast finally has some downtime to relax or move onto other projects. Some stars, like Kit Harington, who told Variety that he doesn’t plan on taking another role as physically demanding as Jon Snow, certainly deserve a break, but others have wasted no time getting back on [...]

  • MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r)

    Submissions Now Welcome for Third 'Meet the Press' Film Festival

    Chuck Todd’s quest to bring “Meet the Press” to the movies continues. The third annual Meet the Press Film Festival, held in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will take place on October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., and remains a haven for issue-focused documentary shorts. Todd believes the event serves a critical mission: [...]

  • Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling

    Cannes: Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling to and From China

    Challenges still remain when it comes to buying, distributing and producing content that can travel between China and the West, attendees of a panel organized by the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival on the sidelines of Cannes said. Cai Gongming, president of Road Pictures, has hit box office gold in China with Cannes art-house titles such [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Cannes Film Review: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in 'The Lighthouse'

    “The Lighthouse,” the second feature directed by Robert Eggers (“The Witch”), is a gripping and turbulent drama that draws on a number of influences, though it merges them into its own fluky gothic historical ominoso art-thriller thing. Set in the 1890s, and suffused with foghorns and epic gusts of wind, as well as a powerfully [...]

  • Cannes: Diao Yinan Explains His Artistic

    Diao Yinan on Cannes Pic 'Wild Goose Lake': 'I Try to Portray the Opposite of a Utopia'

    In competition in Cannes with “Wild Goose Lake,” director Diao Yinan explained Sunday why he’s fascinated by dark crime thrillers – and why his new film features dialogue in China’s Wuhan dialect. “Such thrillers are not only an exercise in style; they’re also full of dramatic tension, and when you combine style with dramatic tension, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content