Here’s to the Sherman’s March of cinema known as January — the elephant’s secret burial ground of BAD movies. Maybe in the future I can put myself in cryogenic suspension from January 2 to February 15 so I may avoid the a*s end of the studio release schedule.
Director Neil Jordan brings us this tale of Claire Cooper (Annette Bening), an artist who’s had psychic visions all of her life, though she could not always understand them. As her small Massachusetts town is plagued by a serial killer (Robert Downey Jr.) preying on young girls, Claire has a vision of the murderer with a young girl in an apple orchard. Her airline pilot husband, Paul (Aidan Quinn), tells the police, but they’ve already found the body at the bottom of the lake.
The vision, though, turns out to be a premonition that will bring a two-way psychic link between Claire and the killer. Soon, to find him and stop him, she must lose herself and …. BECOME HIM!
This is the Neil Jordan of the jumbled “Company of Wolves.” “In Dreams” is just a mess. It needs a first act where we get a chance to care about the Cooper family under relatively normal circumstances, particularly the daughter, Rebecca. Instead the film immediately dives into the weirdness as the killings are well under way and Annette Bening launches into hysteria at any given moment. The second thing is that Jordan doesn’t seem to know what to do with the cinematography. The dreams and visions aren’t shot very different from the “real” scenes, and they look more like perfume ads than a dreamscape.
The two things that probably attracted Jordan and everyone else to the project was the idea of having visions but being unable to understand them, and the motif of the lake. The Cooper family lives next to an artificial lake, created when the old town of Northfield was completely flooded to create a reservoir. All of the town buildings still exist below where the eye could see. It’s too bad that while the filmmakers knew how to photograph it, they didn’t always know what to do with it.
This is the first time I’ve ever said this, but there are two filmmakers who would have been perfect for this material: Steven Spieberg and Wes Craven. I know, it’s an odd pair, but I think any film would be better with Wes Craven, hear me out. Spielberg could have conveyed a dynamic family unit to which we could have connected. We, the audience would have felt a real sense of loss. Craven, on the other hand, is one of the few directors to have really created a cinematic dream-space. He could have created a true sense of irrational horror and dissolving sanity. Despite the occasional clunker, Craven, in everything from “Last House on the Left” to “Scream” has conveyed the primal brutality man is every man. Whenever Jordan has attempted this, in this film, “Wolves”, or “Interview With a Vampire”, it looks like some kind of Details magazine fashion spread.
Maybe the director blew his mental load on “The Butcher Boy”. It just seems that Jordan is at his best when he sticks to the gritty urban dramas in England and Ireland, where we get a “Mona Lisa” or “The Crying Game”. Whenever he steps into fantasy, we seem to get another “High Spirits”.