Being an avid devotee to genre cinema of the 1980s and decades prior, I’m no stranger to the argument that ‘they just don’t make ’em like they used to.’ Though that notion definitely carries a hefty weight, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of pity when it comes to those film fanatics that are unwilling to try anything new. I get it – A lot of ideas are just second-rate, rehashed concepts that have already been perfectly executed, but I cannot emphasize the importance of digging a little deeper past the surface of mainstream cinema. If you’re willing to put in that little bit of extra effort in your pursuits, you’re bound to strike gold.
Such was the case with DREAMLAND, the latest full-length feature from Canadian filmmaker, Bruce McDonald. On the surface, DREAMLAND appears to be about a hitman named Johnny (Stephen McHattie) battling his morality upon discovering that his boss, Hercules (Henry Rollins), has recently begun including children as the latest product in his sex trafficking trade. Adding insult to injury, Hercules’ latest acquisition happens to be Johnny’s incredibly young neighbour girl – Johnny’s focus then becomes retrieving the girl from Hercules’ villainous grip, which becomes a more difficult task upon discovering she has been sold to a perverted vampire seeking a young bride.
As you’re all undoubtedly aware, and the film acknowledges itself, there is no more depraved an act than intentionally placing children in harm’s way. Dubbed as the ‘strangest wedding in cinema history’, DREAMLAND delivers this moniker tenfold. Not only is witnessing a grown bloodsucker marry a preteen perverse, but the wedding party is also entirely comprised of every secret society rumoured to exist. Bringing flicks like Eyes Wide Shut (1999) to mind, the viewer is transported into an entirely new, disturbing world and begins to question how aligned wealth, power and corruption may be. Not too far fetched of a core concept, if you ask me.
This may sound like a lot to digest – The content is much heavier than I had anticipated. That being said, I think it causes the viewer to become much more emotionally invested in the experience. As aforementioned, it is nearly impossible to sink lower than the abuse of a child, so a deep-seated desire for retribution blossoms.
Furthermore, Henry Rollins is truly despicable in his role as Hercules. In fact, the immense level of talent provided by the cast is likely the strongest element in the entire picture. Both Rollins and Juliette Lewis made excellent villains herein and showed a respectable level of versatility in their acting capabilities. Stealing the show, however, is once again Stephen McHattie – He plays both the hitman, Johnny, and a strung-out jazz musician yet differentiates between both roles with seemingly admirable ease. Considering McHattie’s previous work with director Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (2008), McHattie has proven himself to be one of modern cinema’s most valuable genre actors.
I had a strong inclination I’d dig this flick, but I hadn’t expected how highly stylized it’d be. With action sequences bathed with heaps of blood and neon lighting, it isn’t much of a stretch to connect it to the likes of flicks like Drive (2011) or the John Wick franchise. Not a single detail was left malnourished, and I found myself exceedingly excited to see what the next set had to offer.
To call this film a dreamy dystopia would be a vast understatement – It procures a fantastical, otherworldly atmosphere that isn’t too far removed from the usual realms found within the confines of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. With an aesthetic that feels largely dominated by an essence throwing back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, the art-deco fare is infused with a magnificent, technicolour neon flare igniting a memorable visceral feast. DREAMLAND arrives On Demand and Digital June 5, 2020.