An all-day music festival brings drugs, beats, and murder to a group of partygoers, but the toxic interactions between the characters might be more deadly than the mysterious killer...
...Toxic relationships are prevalent in horror, and Dreamcatcher plants its story firmly in that territory. In the film, the inner fighting between friends and family serves as a predictable device to cause unnecessary contention and to quickly propel the story into dangerous situations. While the story does not present a new interpretation of toxicity, it does offer an interesting throughline that combines the old story of Faust and the concept of toxic behavior.
22-year-old party girl Pierce (Niki Koss) feels she has conquered the world and now grows bored with everyone she meets. Horror movies no longer excite her. Men are just disposable tools for pleasure. And even people who have known Pierce her entire life just annoy her and provide nothing challenging. While her boredom does not excuse her toxic actions, her general attitude towards life does offer some interesting reflections on the Faustian bargain.
A prowling cityscape zooms in on a confident publicist as she conducts angry phone calls while walking through a large and dirty building. The green tint of the walls and dim lighting make the hallways seem even more foreign and unforgiving and paint Kya (Nazanin Mandi) in an even more unflattering light. Writer/director Jacob Johnston uses skills from his previous work as a visual developmental producer for numerous Marvel shows and films to attract audiences with the salience of lights, but in a much darker manner. Instead of flashy costumes and bright welcoming colors, Dreamcatcher relies on shadowy interiors saturated with green and yellow to give a nauseated feeling, making even the air look dirty. Using predatory framing, the viewer peeks around corners to spy on Kya as she eventually finds the bag of money she was promised. A little coke and a little cash and Kya should be on top of the world, but she is attacked quite suddenly by a masked figure dressed all in black. The mask resembles a bird’s face and echoes the disguises used in Phantom of the Paradise and Stage Fright. The death occurs quickly, but a significant amount of blood splatters across the screen. While the cold open demonstrates the director’s ability to tell a story using mostly angles and colors alone, the unexpected gore and intense framing set an edgy and gritty tone the following acts cannot keep up with.
Away from the opening carnage, best friends Jake (Zachary Gordon, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Pierce are watching old horror movies. The pair have been friends since very early childhood and, while Jake hints at wanting to finally move beyond friends, Pierce still fully embraces horror movie Fridays with the bestie. That is until sister Ivy (Elizabeth Posey) shows up with her new bf Brecken (Emrhys Cooper) and tickets to Cataclysm, a 10-hour long party with six EDM artists. Friendship be damned, Pierce wants something more exciting in her life and Jake just isn’t cutting it. Described as a Disneyland for grown-ups or a high school dance on speed, Cataclysm invokes Pierce’s wild side and she quickly disappears, leaving Jake to stand as an ever-vigilant guard for his best friend’s safety.
Jake’s fondness and dedication to Pierce are evident, but her responses remain oblivious to his feelings. The friendship, like most of the relationships in the film, comes off as quite toxic; Pierce demands Jake’s undying loyalty yet never reciprocates. She mocks Jake, talks over him, and bosses him around. When he voices his displeasure, she shuts down his emotions and passes off any seriousness by claiming she was joking, punctuating her statement with calls of ‘limp dick’.
In fact, the theme of toxic relationships extends to all the major characters in the film. Hunter, (Blaine Kern III) Pierce’s slighted ex unwilling to admit he was dumped, now stalks her. His toxic masculinity affects more than just Pierce’s night out; he’s also brought along his newest conquest, Raye (Olivia Sui) who he fails to acknowledge as a person. Raye has her own damaging personality traits, however. She is a toxic achiever and can never pass up a moment to further her image or brag up her accomplishments. As for Ivy and Brecken, they met in a support group for people with toxic self-images who self-harm. Even all of their names represent some kind of painful action (Pierce, Brecken), weapon (Raye, Hunter), or poison (Ivy). Except Jake. Jake’s harmless.
Irritated by all her loved ones, Pierce leaves the party to do drugs with Dylan (Travis Burns) also known as DJ Dreamcatcher. Earlier in the night, the musician regaled a stagehand with the story of Faust and likens his own success to the rise and fall of the famed German magician. Now together, Dylan promises Pierce a drug-induced spiritual journey which will allow her to find a more fulfilling life. However, Pierce’s trip takes her to a very dark part of her mind; she hears possible echoes of her past paired with bloody club scene imagery. The dance floor becomes a lonely, yet crowded existence as Pierce’s demons all circle around her and she sees the mask-wearing killer.
At this point in the film, the viewer can assume the villain wears a bird mask and kills people in dark hallways and in drug induced freakouts. But there’s more than one villain in this story. Josephine Tully (Adrienne Wilkinson), Dylan’s agent, suspiciously appears after Pierce’s meeting with Dylan goes horribly wrong. She seems to lay down all her hate and capitalism. Loathe for anything to happen to her precious client, she threatens the group of friends who arrived at Pierce’s rescue. Tully does not care who gets hurt in the process; she has clearly already ruined more lives than Mitch McConnell. The toxic interactions between the main characters cannot compare to “Tully the Toxic Boss”. The viewers’ alliance to characters will continually change throughout the film. Originally, the DJ seems the evil menace preying on unsuspecting fans, but his role, even in his own life, is nothing compared to the control Tully holds over him.
The first act of Dreamcatcher catches the viewer in a thumping bassline of deceit and drugs, but once the high wears off, the second act comes off as slow and disconnected from the opening and closing segments. A couple of the characters have some depth, but the delivery feels strained, mostly due to the pacing. After a murder, the characters wait a whole 12 hours for the next action, and this wasted day is instead filled with backstory and lackluster jump scares. The film starts out strong and the ending presents enough twists and turns to prove exciting, but the muddled middle ruins the overall rhythm.
Dreamcatcher comes to VOD/Digital March 5th from Samuel Goldwyn Films.
By Amylou Ahava
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