Thursday, April 16, 2020

Dreamland – review

Director: Bruce McDonald

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Bruce McDonald directed one of the most interesting zombie/infected movies, Pontypool staring Stephen McHattie (McDonald also directed the pilot movie My Babysitter’s a Vampire and I'll mention Pontypool again later), and the two have gotten together to create this slice of vampire art-noir. When I saw the trailer, I was intrigued and excited and then the film appeared an Amazon VoD…

I must warn you now, this is almost the definition of a love it or hate it movie – so much so I fear it was sponsored by Marmite. I loved it but many will hate it, it is a jazz fuelled noirish nightmare in a world that follows its own rules and would seem to have no concern for our rules.

Stephen McHattie as Johnny
The film starts with McHattie (Deadly Love & Rabid) as Johnny – one of two characters he plays in this. He looks at photos of people – his targets we soon discover. Elsewhere a woman, in her American flag jacket, leaves for work. A plane lands and a wheelchair bound man is pushed through arrivals to a waiting car. A woman learning another language gets in her car, chauffeured by the first woman. The two cars meet and it is clear this is a clandestine meeting – the selling of children. Johnny turns from the driver’s seat of the airport car and shoots all involved – he had killed the real driver.

leaving the palace
Moving to the Palace, and a jazz musician (also Stephen McHattie), referred to only as maestro or the trumpet player, leaves the building. A concierge intercepts him and states that the Countess (Juliette Lewis, From Dusk Till Dawn) wants the trumpet to stay at the Palace as it’s a museum piece, and so he hands over a case. He asks if he can get an advance for his performance but that is refused and so he walks away. The concierge then suggests that the Countess wants the musician to stay in the Palace also, which he acknowledges as he leaves anyway.

Henry Rollins as Hercules
Johnny is in a club owned by his boss, Hercules (Henry Rollins, Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey & He Never Died), he dances to jazz on his own and with Lisa (Lisa Houle). He is summoned up to see Hercules and sees a room full of subdued (and drugged) children as he goes up, recognising one of them. He challenges Hercules about them. Hercules suggests that they have expanded their business and Johnny enabled it (by killing the child traffickers on Hercules’ order) whether he approves or not. Hercules then instructs him to find the trumpet player and remove his little finger for a slight. Hercules met the trumpet player, asked for an autograph but the player didn’t know Hercules’ name and had to ask.

Lisa and the Countess
So, where are we going? Well on a fully surreal journey that has drugged up jazz musicians, a wedding in the Palace that brings out the powerful – including Nazis, jihadists, the new world order, actors and politicians from around the globe, child mobsters (a sequence has Johnny tracked by suit wearing juveniles that almost harked to a deadly Bugsy Malone), Johnny aiming to rescue the girl who he knows, and a vampire (Tómas Lemarquis). The vampire is the countess’ brother and his bride to be is the trafficked 14-year old from Johnny’s building.

bloody vision
Is he a vampire? Well, he has the aesthetic and he has fangs. He can tell that his bride is alive by tasting her spilt blood. We do see a full-on bite and we do see a transformation into a bat late in the film. So yes, actually a vampire. We also get some moments of vision or fantasy. One in particular, that Johnny has, is seeing the trafficked girls stood in a wood, blood on his hand from a tree he touches that is bleeding and the girls doused in blood.

Tómas Lemarquis as the vampire
There are marvellous performances throughout; from Tómas Lemarquis as the vampire, who manages to instil his character with a level of creepy malevolence that is almost blackly comedic relying mostly on gesture and posture. Also from Juliette Lewis who is so bombastic as the Countess and seems to be having great fun and Henry Rollins who is just psychotic. The star, of course, is McHattie playing the two characters, often interacting with himself. There might be a tendency to drift into an understated mumble, but that seems deliberate and both characters work. There seems no acknowledgement of the fact that they seem to resemble each other within the film.

after credit scene from Pontypool
I need to mention the connection between this film and Pontypool, which starred McHattie as Grant Mazzy and Lisa Houle as Sydney Briars. In a post-credit sequence to Pontypool the two are in a room, Mazzy has a gun and they rename themselves Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer and they’re going to “a new place that isn’t even there yet”. This conceptually stretches to Dreamland, names the characters and ties to the coda of this film where a name is revealed. Pontypool writer, Tony Burgess, co-wrote Dreamland.

blood at mouth
There are obvious filmic similes and the one that demands attention is the fact that one could describe this as Lynchian in its surrealism and within the fact that no character seems innocent (even the primary kids have a dark side for instance, if the bride’s brother cries at her fate, he is also more than happy to buy a gun). For some reason I was also reminded of In Bruges as I watched, though that is nowhere near as surreal as this. This is noirish, brutal in parts and maybe even Takashi Miike strange in places . You might well hate it. I loved it. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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