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(1999) (Annette Bening, Robert Downey, Jr.) (R)

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Horror: A woman realizes that her dreams are actually visions of a serial killer's homicidal spree.
Three decades after the town of Northfield was purposefully flooded and covered forever to create a reservoir, Claire (ANNETTE BENING) and Paul Cooper (AIDAN QUINN), along with their daughter Rebecca (KATIE SAGONA), live a seemingly idyllic life in their small New England, lakeside town.

However, Claire, a children's book author and illustrator, is plagued with recurring nightmares and visions of children in danger, a fact that's more disturbing since a serial killer appears to be at work in their area. Even so, the police, including Detective Jack Kay (PAUL GUILFOYLE), don't believe her premonitions, and her odd behavior has nearly forced Paul, an airline pilot, to stray into an affair.

Things get even worse when the madman, Vivian Thompson (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), kills Rebecca, and Claire then realizes that through some odd mind-link his reality appears in her dreams. With an increase in such visions, Claire tries to get anyone to believe her, but by this time she's been put under the care of Dr. Silverman (STEPHEN REA) a psychiatrist who believes he can help her.

From that point on, and as Claire tries to make sense of those visions that include a mysterious apple orchard, the long-drowned town, and some scribbled passages that she continuously finds written in various locales, she realizes she must confront the killer or else go stark raving mad from having him inside her head.

If they're fans of spooky films (but not necessarily the "Scream"-like slasher movies), or of someone in the cast, they might. Younger kids, however, will probably have little or no interest in this film.
For violence/terror and language.
  • ANNETTE BENING plays a children's book author whose constant nightmarish visions of a serial killer's point of view nearly drives her crazy and causes her to swear.
  • AIDAN QUINN plays her airline pilot husband who tries to help her, but nearly strays from their marriage (he also swears).
  • ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. plays a demented serial killer who kills several children while also tormenting Claire through her dreams and then in person.
  • STEPHEN REA plays a psychiatrist who tries to help Claire.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    As a child who visited his relatives in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley during the 1960's and 70's, I was always fascinated by a lake just outside the small town of Dayton. My interest, however, didn't stem from it being particularly picturesque or large, but instead rested on a rumor both so compelling and disturbing that one couldn't avert their eyes whenever passing by it. What, you may ask, was that rumor? That a cemetery lay at the bottom of the lake, long since flooded and never seen since.

    Thus my interest was immediately peaked by the beginning of Neil Jordan's nightmarishly surreal "In Dreams," where a town is purposefully flooded and completely covered -- during the mid 1960's -- to create a new reservoir. With that eerie catalyst in mind and accompanied by the spooky, supernatural elements that followed, I sat back and anxiously awaited what appeared would be a fun, creepy film.

    Unfortunately, and despite some unnerving scenes and disturbingly compelling visuals, the film jumps its tracks, derailed by an increasingly preposterous plot, some wooden acting, and stilted dialogue. Wasting its early potential, what seemed to be a strong entry in the supernatural thriller genre simply becomes a hokey variation of the serial killer plot that would even cause the folks at those telephone psychic hotlines to scoff.

    This isn't to say that I normally debunk such plots. On the contrary, I've often enjoyed such paranormal stories -- no matter how campy they may occasionally get. This film's plot -- as written by Jordan and Bruce Robinson ("Return to Paradise," "Jennifer 8") and based on the novel "Doll's Eyes" by Bari Wood -- initially seems like it has a decent premise.

    However, and not withstanding the "Atlantis" elements, it's simply an uninspired variation that blatantly pilfers the "I can psychically see the killer and/or his plans" elements from films such as "Eyes of Laura Mars," "The Dead Zone," and even "Dreamscape" and "Fear" (as well as many other similarly based novels).

    As such, the "killer is controlling your dreams for later to be disclosed and definitely warped domestic reasons" plot comes off as too goofy to be either scary or believable (in a genre that already necessitates a big dose of suspension of disbelief from the get-go). Simply put, the story idea has been run into the ground and without a sufficient subplot to support the proceedings (think of the dual stories in "The Silence of the Lambs"), the film quickly sinks as the story plummets into further -- and progressively less frightening -- silliness.

    With a nod to my screenwriting aspirations, I believe that an outright ghost story where Claire would discover some decades old wrong-doing that was covered up by the flood would have worked much better than what transpires here as a trite retreading of the serial killer flick.

    Jordan, who delivers yet another highly stylized film as he's done in the past with "The Crying Game" and last year's "The Butcher Boy" is further hampered by the script's weak and often quite stilted dialogue (especially in a scene where Claire announces her plan to stop the killer), as well as some downright stiff acting from an otherwise decent and talented cast.

    While Annette Bening ("The Siege," "The American President") eventually, but only temporarily, feels right inhabiting her character, for most of the film she seems horribly miscast and her performance never gels nor feels natural. Instead, she comes off more like an actress playing a part than a believable, real-life character facing such circumstances.

    Robert Downey, Jr. ("U.S. Marshals," "Two Girls and a Guy") gives an appropriately wacked out performance as the standard-issue, looney serial killer, but appears too late in the film to save it even from a camp standpoint. At one time such a performance may have been highly acclaimed, but we've seen so many similar characters of recent that the effect and impact of such performances are significantly diffused.

    Meanwhile, the usually reliable Stephen Rea (a Neil Jordan favorite in films such "The Butcher Boy" and "The Crying Game") is completely flat and uninspired in his psychiatrist role where he continuously gives the impression that he'd rather be somewhere else than making this film. Aidan Quinn ("Practical Magic," "Michael Collins") similarly can't do much with character whose development mainly consists of him continually and conveniently leaving to fly his planes.

    All of which is a surprise since Jordan's past movies have mostly contained well-written and performed characters. Here it seems, however, that he's more interested in visual flair than deep characterizations. As such, he does deliver some creepy visual moments, from divers making their way through the long-flooded town to the effectively staged nightmare visions that trouble his protagonist.

    Easily the most impressive is an extended sequence where Claire's escape from a psychiatric ward follows and mirrors that of her tormentor from several decades past, with both scenes inter-cut with the other. It's quite effective and appropriately spooky. Yet, where many of the visuals are fun and spooky, others get in the way, such as a futuristic padded cell that seems more in tune with "2001" than this film.

    The problems don't end there, however, as all sorts of gaping plot holes doom this picture to sink to its own watery grave. One of the biggest involves the issue that if Claire was having dreams of little kids in trouble, and that bodies of such victims were being found in her town -- and were obviously the work of a serial killer -- she'd never let her daughter out of her sight. Alas, that isn't the case.

    After that unfortunate incident, and notwithstanding a several week coma that follows, her and Paul's grief and guilt never seem real nor intense enough to be believable (compared say, to George C. Scott's character in the similarly spooky "The Changeling"). After all, their daughter has just been murdered and Claire saw the whole thing before it happened.

    Beyond that, one is never sure why Claire isn't committed to a psychiatric ward much earlier in the film, nor is it ever certain whether the killer is taunting her in person (one would expect this with a radio positioned to play an appropriately topical song) or that she's simply hallucinating (the typing that appears -- and echoes her words -- on her computer screen).

    Likewise, a character would never continue going ever deeper into an obviously long vacated and dilapidated hotel -- on the whim of a caller who said they had the family dog there -- other than as a cinematic device to put viewers on the edge of their seats. Finally, if the filmmakers had to include the increasingly preposterous mental mind-link between Claire and Vivian, why didn't they use any of the fun "Village of the Damned"-like scenes where our protagonist must mentally outwit her nemesis who can apparently read her every thought?

    Better than the recent onslaught of teenage slasher films, but nowhere near as good as it could and should have been, the film may feature some creepy and effective visuals, but its many problems insure that it won't stay afloat for long. Disappointing due to the wasted cast and story potential, we give "In Dreams" just a 4 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this R-rated film. The picture is filled with many haunting and some disturbing images that will be unsettling or downright frightening to some viewers, especially younger kids if they're allowed to see it. Profanity is extreme with more than 20 "f" words and a small assortment of other phrases, and several violent acts occur on screen while others are implied and/or we see the results (which are often quite bloody).

    Beyond some thematic elements involving Claire being committed to a mental asylum, her and Paul's response to their daughter's murder, etc... the rest of the film's categories don't contain much in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, and considering the film's spooky and violent nature, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • We see Paul pour himself a drink (but don't see him drink it).
  • Paul's lip is bloody (as is that of his counterpart in Claire's dream/vision) after she bites into it.
  • Paul returns home to find what's presumably blood all over the house (including words written on the walls) and then finds Claire who's slit her wrists.
  • We twice see the image of a dog feeding on a dead man's bloody body.
  • We briefly see blood squirt out when a man stabs another man in his eye.
  • Blood squirts out as a young man stabs a woman in the neck and shoulder with a screwdriver (and moments later we see the bloody body in a laundry cart).
  • Claire has a tiny bit of blood on her head.
  • Vivian's face is bloody.
  • A person's lip is bloody after they've been bitten there.
  • Blood then drips onto that person from the ceiling and we then see blood-written words covering and running down the walls around him.
  • Obviously, Vivian has both for being a killer with a fondness for children.
  • Paul may have had an affair (Claire confronts him with this, and although he denies it, he does admit wanting to sleep with the other woman).
  • Vivian's mother apparently had both for chaining the boy to a bed with the pending flooding of their town.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • The sight of the completely underwater city may be unnerving to some viewers (especially younger kids).
  • Many of Claire's dreams/visions (of little children potentially in harm's way -- especially one showing a child chained to a bed while their room is rapidly filling with water) may be unsettling or scary for some viewers (since most of those scenes are dark, gloomy and accompanied by scary/suspenseful music).
  • The same holds true for Claire's frantic search for her missing daughter, the subsequent discovery and shots of the young body being retrieved from the water, and Claire's attempt to kill herself (by driving through a guardrail and into a body of water).
  • Claire hears her dead daughter's laugh and then sees their dog reacting to a swing moving on its own.
  • As Claire madly tries to grind up apples in her sink, some murky substance starts bubbling and squirting up from it.
  • Claire and her dog are nearly hit by a tractor trailer and the subsequent car accidents that follow the rig jackknifing on the road.
  • We twice see the image of a dog feeding on a dead man's body (after Claire envisions herself slowly walking up to that scene, and then when that still alive man does the same).
  • Scenes set in a mental ward where Claire acts in a bizarre fashion may be unsettling to some viewers.
  • We see several images of a young boy being shot with jets of water as well as undergoing electric shock therapy.
  • The entire ending sequence where Claire tries to escape from the killer may be suspenseful to some viewers.
  • Stage Knife: Held in a school play of "Snow White."
  • Screwdriver: Used by a young man to stab a woman to death.
  • Handgun: Stolen by Claire and Vivian (in different times) from security guards, used to threaten them, and later used by Vivian to kill one guard.
  • Scythe: Used by the killer to threaten or try to kill Claire.
  • Automatic weapons: Carried by the police and fired once at the killer.
  • Phrases: "I f*cked up," "You sick f*ck," (said and written), and "Bastard."
  • Claire tries to kill herself several times (driving her car through a guardrail, slitting her wrists).
  • A man finds a dog tied to a bed in a deserted hotel room.
  • A hand suddenly comes out in one of Claire's visions/dreams.
  • A person suddenly hits another person just as a third person stabs a fourth in the eye.
  • A man suddenly grabs a woman.
  • Hands suddenly grab a person through a mirror.
  • An extreme amount of both types of music occurs throughout the film.
  • None.
  • At least 23 "f" words (2 used sexually), 4 "s" words, 2 damns, 2 hells, 1 ass, and 2 uses each of "Oh God," "Jesus" and "God," and 1 use each of "G-damn," "Oh Jesus," "For Christ's sakes" and "Swear to God" as exclamations.
  • We briefly see Claire and Paul kissing and caressing each other on their bed, but certainly don't see anything explicit.
  • Claire confronts Paul about an affair she believes he's having. He denies it and the basic fact of sleeping with this woman (using the "f" word), but says that he wanted to.
  • Claire smokes a few times while a security guard also smokes.
  • Claire confronts Paul with having an affair (he denies it but admits wanting to sleep with the woman).
  • Claire and Paul must deal with their daughter's disappearance and then murder.
  • People (whether murderers or molesters) who prey on small children.
  • Claire's reaction to all of what occurs (as well as that of others to her, including Paul who allegedly has an affair).
  • The reasons people are committed to mental asylums.
  • There's talk of finding a dead girl (with stones in her pockets) in the water (ie. She was murdered), and we then see that another girl was drowned.
  • Claire purposefully tries to kill herself by driving through a guardrail and into a body of water.
  • Claire bites into Paul's lip and draws blood.
  • Claire purposefully breaks a boom box and later throws her computer monitor through a window and to the ground below where it breaks upon impact.
  • Several cars smash into each other (no visible injuries).
  • Claire suddenly attacks Dr. Silverman.
  • We briefly see a man stab another man in his eye (with blood), killing him.
  • We see several images of a young boy being shot with jets of water as well as undergoing electric shock therapy.
  • A young man stabs a woman in the shoulder and neck (with blood), killing her. Moments later, he shoots a security guard dead.
  • Vivian punches Claire in the face, knocking her out. She later stomps down on his face, drawing some blood.
  • The killer tries to hit Claire with a scythe, and then holds it and a gun to her neck/head.
  • A person dies after falling from a high distance into the water below.
  • A person bites into another person's lip and then slams their head into a mirror.

  • Reviewed January 11, 1999 / Posted on January 15, 1999

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