REVIEW: Dreamland [2020]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 92 minutes
    Release Date: June 5th, 2020 (Canada)
    Studio: Dark Star Pictures / Uncork’d Entertainment
    Director(s): Bruce McDonald
    Writer(s): Tony Burgess & Patrick Whistler

We don’t do this.

There’s a line in Bruce McDonald‘s director’s statement that I believe should be shown before the start of his latest film Dreamland. It’s as follows: “I encouraged our team to embrace the Dream [and] not let logic get in the way of a good idea.” He goes on to mention how the result is a “miracle freak baby” that probably never should have been made considering they consciously tried to “stop making sense.” It’s the type of insight that people need access to since intent goes a long way towards understanding a work like this. To have us watch so many weird and unexplained moments that seem like mistakes, incongruities, and lazy filmmaking without it is to risk our discrediting the whole without reservation. It’s an avoidable disservice.

So rather than exist as visual jazz (McDonald and screenwriters Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler envisioned it as something imagined by Chet Baker), Dreamland plays out in earnest instead considering most of what’s on-screen drips with melodrama. The film noir aspects of its hitman with a heart of gold (Stephen McHattie‘s “Shooter”) trump the more surreally absurd atmosphere of colorful characters—the least of which is a junkie trumpet player (a Baker stand-in) also played by McHattie despite nobody acknowledging a resemblance. We follow “Shooter’s” moral struggle to reconcile how he can kill anyone his boss (Henry Rollins‘ Hercules) chooses, but not allow himself to associate with a depraved branding shift from brothel to child sex traffickers. And we understand this drive even if nothing else makes sense.

This can be problematic, though, since it forces our brains to want the rest to follow. But that’s impossible when the world around “Shooter” opens up to introduce child gangsters on cellphones like a twenty-first century Bugsy Malone, a deplorable Countess (Juliette Lewis) and her vampire (maybe?) brother (Tómas Lemarquis), and dream-like fugue states where we have to wonder if “Shooter” and “Maestro” are the same person regardless of the script presuming they aren’t. Who’s the woman “Shooter” sees showered in white light? Where does his prostitute friend Lisa (Lisa Houle) fit in? Why is the comic relief supplied by the Countess’ brother and doorman Fegelein (Guillaume Kerbusch) such a jarring contrast to the dour mood of everyone else? It often feels devoid of both rhyme and reason.

That’s what makes it so divisive—you either embrace the ride or revolt against it. I personally tried to do the former because “Shooter’s” journey to retrieve the young neighbor Hercules’ female goons kidnapped is an intriguing one if only because you can’t begin to hypothesize what’s coming next. The fact that Burgess and Whistler have no qualms bringing back characters from the start to achieve something the plot demands despite them doing so coming out of left field can’t help but earn kudos too since it proves how the filmmakers have embraced those things that generally irk viewers. They don’t care, though. Why waste time bringing in someone else when you can simply recycle two others? They take every opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Does it leave a ton of open-ended questions? You bet. Does it lean into the parallel between “Shooter” and “Maestro” without digging deeper than the surface? Yes again. But when you think about it as a heroin-addled fever dream of an artistic genius that’s no stranger to danger, it somehow works (that he’s not the main character confuses things, though). Not only won’t he remember anything when sober, he may be dead before sobriety next takes hold. So let him speak in metaphors as his doppelganger is haunted by his own violent actions’ effect. And let kids run around with loaded weapons while vampires giggle at the smell of their betrothed’s blood. Rules don’t exist in Dreamland. You can die and still come back to save the day.

I won’t say I wasn’t consumed by frustration at moments, but there’s a certain charm that helps transcend it. A lot comes as a result of the cast buying into the chaos and having fun. Rollins is enjoying every second his unhinged brute devolves further towards monstrousness and Lewis brings an infectious enthusiasm to her immoral aristocrat with carte blanche while inside her palace. Kerbusch and Lemarquis may stick out due to their inherent goofiness, but both provide a nice reprieve from “Shooter’s” (and to a lesser extent “Maestro’s”) severe demeanor. McHattie is up for the task of holding all that drama on his shoulders while the others dryly earn some laughs, though. He can wait to smile later if he’s ever granted a second for uninterrupted relief.

[1] Stephen McHattie as Johnny in the horror/crime/thriller, “DREAMLAND,” an Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures.
[2] (L-R) Juliette Lewis as the Countess, Tómas Lemarquis as the Vampire, and Themis Pauwels as the Child Bride in the horror/crime/thriller, “DREAMLAND,” an Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures.
[3] Henry Rollins as Hercules in the horror/crime/thriller, “DREAMLAND,” an Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment/Dark Star Pictures.

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