There is a lot that can be said about Dreamkatcher but let no one tell you that it’s not an informative film. It is. It contains a wealth of strange knowledge. Like, did you know, that the only thing standing between you and relentless horror is the letter ‘K’? Who knew? Well, director Kerry Harris and co-writer Dan V. Shea, that’s who. They told us so. At the beginning of their film...
...See dreamcatchers with a ‘C’ are benevolent tools meant to capture bad dreams and protect the sleeper. But dreamkatchers with a ‘K’, well, those are creepy, ooky, and altogether spooky. And occasionally, for reasons unknown, house malevolent cross-dressing forces played by notable horror composers.
If you’re lost and don’t handle change well, don’t worry, you’re gonna stay lost. Speaking of lost, here comes our synopsis now! Dreamkatcher follows widower and mediocre dad Luke (Henry Thomas), his child psychologist wife Gail (Radha Mitchell), and Luke’s 6 year-old, er, wait, 8 year-old? Luke’s perfect-age-for-acting-out-in-the-wake-of-trauma son, Josh (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), as the three arrive at the family’s country house. Did I also mention that Josh’s mom drowned in the pond next to the house? Or was she hacked to pieces with an axe by a neighbor child? Let’s just say it was both. Well, in light of these facts Josh makes it painfully clear that Gail is NOT his mom and that she is an unwelcome presence in their lives. Gail wastes most of what little pillow talk time with Luke she has, plying him with ham-fisted child psychology theory before a nightmare-shaken Josh crashes their party.
Conveniently, Luke, a composer/songwriter, is called back to “the city” to rewrite a chorus for a client leaving Gail to attend to Josh’s increasing nightmare shenanigans. Anyone who has seen this year’s gut punch shocker The Lodge will recognize this setup, and that alone should be enough to ratchet up your anxiety. Cue Gail using every Shrink Jr. trick in the book to try and crack Josh who always has a packaged and precocious retort or observation. We’ve seen this relationship a thousand times. Throw in a backwoods talisman huckster, Ruth (Lin Shaye), who feeds Josh’s obsession with dreams and ghosts in ways Gail refuses to, and you’ve got yourself a plot.
But there’s something, ultimately that keeps Dreamkatcher from being the sweet cinematic dream that it could be. So what is it? It’s certainly not a shortcoming on the cast. Anyone familiar with Radha Mitchell’s body of work, Pitch Black, Silent Hill, Melinda and Melinda, The Crazies, knows that she’s up to the challenge. Personally, I consider her a criminally underrated actress. Audiences will remember Henry Thomas most recently from The Haunting of Hill House, where he did an impressive turn as the Crain family patriarch in the flashback portion of the series. And Lin Shaye goes without saying.
It’s certainly not the score. Discerning watchers and listeners will note the tell-tale atmospheric skin-prickling and chilling swells of dread maestro Joseph Bishara. Bishara’s name has become synonymous with horror scoring over the past ten years with his work on Insidious and practically every entry in The Conjuring universe. He also does great character work, donning makeup and embodying ghouls from many recent box office hits and including Dreamkatcher.
So, what is it? You can tell that Harris and Shea want their thread of loss, grief, and trauma to be heavier, meatier than it is. Much of where that fails to coalesce is in the script. It wants weight, but ends up reading as clunky. We’re not invested enough in anyone for what they care about to matter to us. I never liked Josh for one moment, let alone long enough for me to care that he may or may not be succumbing to the influence of a malevolent presence housed within a dreamKatcher. With a “K”. It’s easy to want to like Gail, she’s smart, patient, caring, and she can be a decisive and practical force. In one scene Gail has had enough of the goings on, she’s had enough for everyone and decides for the family, “We’re leaving.” But she folds like a cheap card table when Luke displays skepticism as to her perception of events. She was right, she knew it, but she didn’t follow through on the promise of her character. A human shortcoming to be sure, but one more attributable to the script rather than performance choice.
A series of narrative missteps and tonal blunderings kneecap Dreamkatcher in the very spots that needed reinforcement. Capable performances, pitch-perfect scoring, and some laudable visual choices keep this film from the two for $10 at Target. It’s a bit rough, but it’s still a dream worth catching. And somebody get Radha Mitchell’s agent on the line, she’s too good for all this.
Catch Dreamkatcher when it releases on DVD, Digital and VOD April 28th from Lionsgate.
By Paul Bauer