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Dreamland

Image // Unrated // February 27, 2007
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 10, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Not to be confused with the 2006 drama of the same name, the 2007 direct-to-video offering "Dreamland" is an extended "Twilight Zone" episode shot on a limited budget. The movie follows the classic format of that show: long stretches of eerie set-up followed by a quick, clever pay-off. In this instance, the pay-off is highly inventive yet way too over-explained, while the brisk 77-minute running time keeps the film from running out of steam before it hits that mark.

Meghan (Jackie Kreisler) and Dylan (Shane Elliott) are a young couple taking a trip across the Nevada desert. By skipping her medication, Meghan has become prone to hallucinatory nightmares, from which she bolts awake with a scream. (This happens three times in the first ten minutes, which is at least two times too many.) She sees a little girl alone in the desert - a trick of the mind?

After hours on the road, they find a rundown bar n' grill, one of those places close enough to Area 51 to be plastered with alien-themed artwork. The bartender (Jonathan Breck) offers up his own theories on the UFO phenomenon. Later, unbeknownst to our couple, a redneck vanishes in a cloud of white light, and later still, two "men in black" types stop by for a bite while hipster jazz plays on the soundtrack; the former is important to the plot, the latter, not one bit, really.

Back on the desert highway. The car radio suddenly picks up Hitler's speech at the 1936 Olympics. Say, what gives? ("Maybe because it's an old car, it picks up old stations," Dylan half-jokes.) Having already seen our fair share of movies like this, we know this to be merely the beginning of something far more sinister. And so it is - there's plenty of screaming and running through the desert that follows, although writer/director James Lay (working from a story by Lay, Kenny Saylors, and Kyle Saylors) is adamant to not let his film turn into a screaming-and-running kind of story.

Instead, this is a more restrained piece, one that works best in its quieter moments (a simple movement of clouds makes for a good grabber). Lay's lengthy career as a sound editor provides a foundation for some of the sharpest moments, which use sound (and its absence) as a playful key toward the creepiness of the events. Then, when the story hits its climax, which includes, of all things, a famous historical figure showing up out of nowhere to yell at our heroine (hallucination or reality?), there's a thoughtfulness behind it all. We're hooked: where is this leading us? The little moments are so clever that we easily forgive the slower, clumsier parts of the film - the sometimes awkward acting, the ill-fitting detours into comedy, the occasional redundancy to the plot points.

The ending, then, is the movie's best and worst aspect. Best because it provides a solution so unique and cunning that you can't help but smile. Worst because after this, the film them goes on for ten more minutes, explaining and re-explaining and over-explaining itself, trying to cram one more bit of "a ha!!" into the screenplay. This is the sort of movie that asks you to watch it again so you can catch all the clues you missed the first time around, but the final shots are so convoluted and unnecessary that you don't feel like it's worth the effort. The "how" of this ending is fantastic. The "why" is a snooze.

The DVD

Video & Audio


The film's low budget is no hindrance to the production values, as the thing looks quite good in this anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The darks of the night setting are well balanced, and the bursts of light throughout are crisp and vibrant. The soundtrack is offered in Dolby surround, DTS, and Dolby stereo, all three sound quite rich and deep. No subtitles are provided.

Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

Folks who enjoy a little intelligence behind their supernatural thrillers will do plenty fine to Rent It. This is an ambitious project whose ingenuity, however flawed, deserves a look.
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