HCF REWIND NO. 125: IN DREAMS 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 96 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Claire Cooper is an illustrator of books of fairy tale who lives near a lake where, many years before, a town was flooded and is now at the bottom of the lake. For several nights, she has been having two distinct dreams, one of a boy tied to a bed, and one of a little girl being led through an orchard by a shadowy figure. She thinks that the girl might well one of several girls that a serial killer has been murdering, but neither the police nor her husband take her seriously. Then her own daughter is kidnapped, and Claire realises that she was not seeing the past but the future….
It probably sounds like I’ve given away too much with my synopsis of the first third of In Dreams, but trust me it only is of the first third. This is a movie I cannot believe it has taken me until now to see, especially considering director Neil Jordan’s other two fine forays into horror; The Company Of Wolves and Interview With A Vampire, but with his return to vampirism Byzantium coming up, I felt I had to check it out. It’s an astonishingly painful, unsettling movie that, as it was drawing to its conclusion, I thought that was finishing in an overly simplistic and cliched way, until I realized what was really going on in the story. What we are being shown and told is not necessarily what is actually happening. That so many critics failed to pick up on the fact that the whole film is told from the point of view of someone going mad, and instead just picked apart all the supposed implausibilities, is very sad, I mean Jordan even gives you clues throughout which just seemed like added weird detail until, as the film finished, I thought hang on!
Yes, to really appreciate this film you really have to have your thinking cap on, a hard thing to do when it also has so much atmosphere which is tempting to just let wash all over you. Shot under the title Blue Vision, it was based on a novel called Doll’s Eyes by Bari Wood, whose Twins became Dead Ringers. Jordan and his co-writer Bruce Robinson did what many great creators do; change a great deal of the book, often quite drastically, so they can make it more their own work, while retaining the essence of it. The film had Robert Downey Jr’s last role before being sent to the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison on drug charges. Marketed more as a straight serial killer flick than the far stranger film that it is, In Dreams bombed at the box office, and even now it seems to be one of those films that people love or hate. I think it’s safe to say that more people hate it [just read the comments on the forum for this film on the IMDB], something which I think is partly today with expectations: I mean I love it when a film surprises me and is different to what I expected, but many folk aren’t as weird as me.
I knew I was going to love this film right from the opening scene where two divers explore the underwater town set to some of the most eerily beautiful music I have heard in a film in ages. After this the story does begin to take in echoes of other films; The Eyes Of Laura Mars, The Shining, Don’t Look Now and A Nightmare On Elm Street to name there, plus many visual echoes of Alfred Hitchcock. The two films it most resembles though, and I have yet to see this mentioned, are Candyman and The Stendahl Syndrome [it’s even got that film’s lip-biting!]. The similarities are striking, and yet Jordan makes In Dreams his own. As I write this, I have images from this film flooding through my mind which will remain there for ages; the gorgeous but slightly sickly autumn orchard which acts as a kind of twisted Garden of Eden, the haunting POV shots of the lake seemingly from the point of view of the lake itself, young girls dressed as fairies swarming around Claire like demons. And the camera never seems to stop moving, constantly imparting a sense of unease to the proceedings, like when Claire and her husband make love and we see only see it briefly through some windows as the camera glides along the outside of the house.
Of course technical virtuosity doesn’t always work if not backed up by substance, and In Dreams certainly is, though sometimes you have to work at it as the story switches from being about a woman unknowingly able to predict the future to a possession tale to something bordering on a very dark love story. Though not an action-packed film, the story moves fast, without an inch of fat, and yet I left the credits wanting more. About three quarters of the way through Jordan literally shows us events happening simultaneously and repeating each other, with editing by Darius Khondji that is absolutely brilliant in matching images in one time period with another. And then the film seems to wind down to the cliched confrontation between the heroine and the serial killer you’ve seen a hundred times before, though it’s both intriguing and profoundly disturbing that the little girl the killer holds prisoner seems totally happy in her new ‘home’, and you really end up feeling sorry for the abductor. All does seem a little pat, and the final jump scare, in a film which has avoided them, initially seems cheap, but boy does it work!! Anyway, is all this really happening?
There are quite a few things going on in this film which seem silly when first thought of, like a bizarre sequence with loads and loads of apples being thrown into a sink blender and weird slime coming out, and an even stranger one with a dog that appears to be the cleverest dog on Earth. However, if you realise that you’re probably not meant to take everything at face value, such supposed flaws don’t seem much like flaws at all. There’s a somewhat different story being told then the one supposedly unfolding on screen, and it’s an immensely dark and even depressing one about grief and madness. It even dares to say that fairy tales, while we may think they are a good refuge from reality, have lessons for us all, and are certainly an excellent tool to prepare kids for life, may not be such a good influence after all. Elements of child abuse and transgressive sexuality are present, and there are even a couple of decent slasher killings, but the lasting impression you should get from this film, if you’re willing to go with it, is of immense sadness at the destruction of a life.
If you’re looking for major flaws, then one is better off looking at some of the acting. Downey Jr. is clearly ripped to the gills on drugs, Aidan Quinn seems half-asleep, and Jordan regular Chris Rea has a laughable American accent. Aidan Quinn seems half-asleep though his character is weakly written anyway. Annette Benning is the revelation in this film, doing brilliantly in a very brave role, and emphasising the fact that she actually has very haunted features; one just isn’t normally aware of them because of the parts she normally plays. Then there’s Eliot Goldenthal’s sensational score, as much a character in the film as the people in it, whether it’s darkly beautiful piano or full orchestral onslaught or electric guitars making the most discordant [but entirely appropriate] sound I’ve heard in ages. And of course, the film has to finish with the Roy Orbison song, whose lyrics actually somewhere sum it up. What an underrated and misunderstood motion picture this is. I’ll be shocked if Byzantium is as good.