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Dreamcatcher (2021) Review

Dreamcatcher might be writer/director Jacob Johnston’s first feature, but it’s far from the first film to try to combine horror and rave culture. From Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave and Sweatshop to Pit Stop and Ravers, plenty have tried. But while they seem to be a natural combination with creepy warehouse settings, trippy lighting, a pulsing soundtrack, people in altered states and plenty of potential suspects and victims, the films rarely succeed. Can Johnston dream up a better approach?

Dreamcatcher opens with the acerbic PR woman for Dylan (Travis Burns, Neighbors) better known as DJ Dreamcatcher arguing over her client’s requirements with a potential employer. Almost as soon as she gets off the phone, she’s beaten to death by someone wearing the mask her client wears on stage.

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Meanwhile, Ivy (Elizabeth Posey, Gully) and Breken (Emrhys Cooper, The Harrowing, Blood Rush) have arrived in town to meet Ivy’s sister Pierce (Niki Koss, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Killer App). She has a surprise as well, the three of them and Pierce’s friend Jake (Zachary Gordon, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) are going to Cataclysm, featuring DJ Dreamcatcher.

However, things turn sour when Pierce ODs while hanging out with the DJ. Since this could kill his career, (it’s not the first time death has visited one of his gigs), it needs to be covered up. Easier said than done at the best of times, let alone when a masked figure is murdering everyone involved.

Dreamcatcher is a great looking film, which is no surprising given the director’s background as a visual development producer on several Marvel films and TV shows. From the sets to the lighting and Dreamcatcher’s Plague Doctor influenced mask, the film looks wonderful. Coupled with a more convoluted than usual plot, it gives the film a bit of a giallo feel.

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Unfortunately, despite saying, in the Director’s Statement “we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.”, Johnston undermines that vibe by playing it safe. The kills are nicely set up, but relatively tame, lacking the giallo’s love of gore. More than one death is actually bloodless. It also lacks the genre’s tendency towards sleaze, characters have sex with their underwear on and keep their hands strategically placed in the shower.

What the characters do, however, is talk. They talk about their feelings, they talk about their past, they even read Shakespeare’s Macbeth aloud. Dreamcatcher runs an hour and forty-eight minutes, and it is filled with talk. Part of this is due to the film’s odd structure. Pierce dies at the rave, but for purposes of the cover-up, everyone has to be at a release party the next day. You might expect the film to skip over the night as the characters sleep, or use it to stage a kill or two. Instead, it’s full of talk that easily could have been cut out.

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By the hour mark there’s more plot dealing with DJ Dreamcatcher’s management team Josephine (Adrienne Wilkinson, Raze) and Colton (Lou Ferrigno Jr., Legend of the Muse, S.W.A.T.) plans to backstab him than actual stabbing. And despite top billing, Ferrigno has barely any screen time, he’s mostly a voice on the phone.

The film does rally a bit in the last twenty or so minutes as all the characters and threads come together. But the script still manages to undercut itself with attempts to be shocking, like revealing one of the characters is gay before dispatching them in the film’s bloodiest kill. And the final reveal of the killer’s identity is a bit underwhelming to say the least.

Yes, there are slasher-adjacent kill scene set pieces. But, when you peel away the layers of these characters, whether they’re on the chopping block or not, you will see Dreamcatcher is much more. Sometimes a satirical, social commentary, sometimes a gripping dramatic love story, oftentimes a frightening thrill ride — the film, like the personality of the ensemble, evolves as the story unfolds.

Jacob Johnston

Maybe if the film had been more concerned with delivering scares instead of trying to be profound, Dreamcatcher would have been a shorter, and more satisfying film. Instead it blunts the edge of its thrills with muddled attempts to make points and fails as a thriller or a drama. It is, to quote Ivy quoting Shakespeare, “Full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films will release Dreamcatcher On Digital and On Demand March 5th.

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