TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! A24 has cultivated quite a bohemian reputation in recent years. Fans of the production house have increasingly lauded their output as visionary, especially their “high-brow” horror efforts. Dissenters, on the other hand, have ridiculed A24’s offerings as pulp or pompous or some such derivative. Therein enters writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario, a movie that has all the trademarks of A24’s production style but is neither high-brow nor horror — at least, not explicitly.
A24 titles tend to lean heavily on stylish idiosyncrasy, and the same goes here. The premise is thoughtful and clever in equal measure, and even more, Borgli shrewdly but unexpectedly overlays modern culture with themes of Lovecraftian phantasmagoria. But for all the comedic horror’s raw potential, including a Nicholas Cage performance as fantastic and fantastical as only his acting can be, the plot follows the A24 formula to a fault. It is a heavily metaphorical film right up until it is nauseatingly literal.
Dream Scenario follows the benign, workaday life of university professor Paul Matthews (Cage). But Paul’s monotonous life thrives when several people close to him begin having dreams about him, many of them sinister. As the phenomenon grows, Paul must negotiate between his regular life and the infamy of his fantasy self.
“…Paul’s monotonous life thrives when several people close to him begin having dreams about him…”
Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is the lead actor. He is simultaneously awkward and rich, routine and unconventional. Cage seamlessly tackles the plot’s burgeoningly wild occurrences while maintaining a believably grounded character. All of the actors surrounding Cage also give admirably strong performances, but, in truth, this is all about Cage. The motion picture surrounds him, is guided by him, and veritably is him.
Expectedly, the A24 polish is liberally applied to the presentation. The editing is clean, precise, and calculated to emphasize each moment, whether it be an instance of tension or hilarity. And indeed, Dream Scenario is often very funny. Likewise, the cinematography is calibrated to convey a specific tonal identity.
However, the flick has a fatal flaw that pervades every aspect: the narrative has no purpose. The several story threads lead to nothing but the most crudely and generically formed social commentary. As such, the quality of the technical aspects decomposes across a burdensome runtime. The characters become flat observers, the humor stays for too long, and the phantasmagorical mystery soon evaporates.
At its core, Dream Scenario is a thinly veiled criticism of modern culture. And certainly, it had every component necessary to deliver genuine insight in this regard. But when the film needs to compose its many ideas, it instead becomes a thematic centrifuge, not combining these ideas but separating them. By the final act, it verges on self-parody. In the end, this is just another entry in the A24 canon. It neither falls into the stuffy mold of the mini-studio’s rejecters nor aids the A24’s devotees by breaking any cinematic molds. Indeed, Borgli’s feature is just another somewhat edgy movie that has nothing to say.
Dream Scenario screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…Cage seamlessly tackles the plot's burgeoningly wild occurrences while maintaining a believably grounded character."