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Review: DREAMLAND (2019)

I’m not sure how Dreamland stayed under my radar for so long, but it did. Just the fact it reunites the writer, director, and star of Pontypool should have gotten it a lot more attention. I remember reading about it heading towards production in 2017. And then nothing. I forgot about it until a copy crossed my path. Was it a happy surprise? It was for me, your mileage may vary, however.

Johnny (Stephen McHattie, Z, Pontypool) is a hitman who we first see gunning down a cab full of rich pedophiles. His boss Hercules (Henry Rollins, He Never Died, The Devil’s Tomb) gleefully informs him that with them dead he can move into the trade unopposed. This horrifies Johnny, but his boss sends him out on a new job anyway. To get the pinky from the jazz musician known as The Maestro (also Stephen McHattie). It seems he forgot Hercules’ name, and that kind of insult demands revenge.

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The Maestro is in town to play a wedding held at the castle of The Countess (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers, Hellion). Her vampiric brother (Tómas Lemarquis, Snowpiercer) is marrying one of Hercules’ girls. But all he wants to do is get a fix before he has to play. What’s a jazz musician without a heroin problem?

The unwilling bride turns out to be the daughter of Johnny’s neighbour. He decides to listen to what few morals he has left and saved her. Everything hits the fan and all hell breaks loose during the lavish wedding reception.

Obviously, Dreamland is anything but a realistic film. The European locations and production design that mixes vintage noir with modern technology add to that unreality. Whether it feels like a dream, a drug trip or a nightmare is up to the individual viewer.

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The film’s inhabitants, however, play it all very straight. They act as though a Nosferatu like vampire is the most normal thing to have living in their city. A group of suite wearing 13-year-old hitmen complete with guns, tough guy swagger and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths doesn’t raise an eyebrow in the world of Dreamland.

Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler crafted a script that may be odd but it’s consistent in its oddity. Dreamland has its own internal logic and adheres to it, unlike other films that decide weird means anything goes. That base lets Bruce McDonald and his cast take an unbelievable story and make it believable for the film’s duration.

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McHattie needed to do stellar jobs in both roles to sell the film. And he does, making these two very different men, and their connection, believable. Rollins is amusing for just the opposite reason, as he goes way over the top as Hercules. Being more used to his strong silent type roles, seeing him chew the scenery in Dreamland was a nice change. Also, watch for McHattie’s Pontypool co-star Lisa Houle as Lisa. The role feels like it was cut back from a larger one, but it’s still good to see her.

Dreamland won’t be for everyone. A lot of folks will find it too weird for their tastes, and I can understand that. I loved it, and given the chance, you might too.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release Dreamland later this year.

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