Director: Kerry Harris
Writer: Dan V. Shea, Kerry Harris
Producer: Kerry Harris, Orian Williams, Annie Stewart, Christian Taylor
Stars: Radha Mitchell, Henry Thomas, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Jules Willcox, Joseph Bishara, Lin Shaye
A cursed dreamcatcher sows a young boy¡¯s nightmares with frightening visions that threaten to murder his stepmother.
Has it ever been truly necessary for any movie to open with a dictionary definition of a particular word? ¡°Dreamkatcher¡± opens with two so it can differentiate between ¡°c¡± and ¡°k¡± spellings of the title, which barely have different meanings anyway. As an added bonus for viewers wondering where to set expectations, starting on a played-out clich¨¦ fires a flare to signal ¡°Dreamkatcher¡± will be about as by-the-book basic as room temperature thrillers can get.
Following a prologue that lasts four and a half minutes just to draw out how long it takes to get to the predictable stinger, opening credits treat us to three tiring minutes of a camera drone following a car through a forest. For anyone tallying these times together, we¡¯ve now made it to the nine-minute mark in what¡¯s only a 77-minute runtime and the movie hasn¡¯t even really started yet.
Once ¡°Dreamkatcher¡± finally gets out of the gate, we¡¯re introduced to widower Luke and his new wife Gail. They¡¯ve just arrived at the family¡¯s country cabin where Luke hasn¡¯t been since his first wife died two years and four movie minutes ago. Luke¡¯s young son Josh accompanies the couple. Can you guess how Josh feels about his stepmother? If you said anything along the lines of ¡°frosty and resentful,¡± you win nothing more than the knowledge that you¡¯re still a step ahead of the screenplay, since this seems to be the only way a stepchild-stepparent relationship ever ends up portrayed in a horror movie.
When Josh isn¡¯t reminding Gail how much he hates her by either playing a prank or hurling hurtful words, the boy suffers from recurring nightmares of his dead mother Becky. Conveniently for the plot¡¯s setup, Luke quickly gets called back to the city on business, leaving Gail and Josh alone for forced bonding time. More conveniently, a hike leads them to Ruth, a nearby neighbor who sells homemade spirit traps and spouts all the exposition Josh and Gail need to get the story where it goes next.
Hoping to sleep peacefully, Josh secretly steals a dreamcatcher suspiciously tucked away in Ruth¡¯s barn. The dreamcatcher seems to work for a moment, as nightly visitations from Becky¡¯s ghost initially appear benevolent and loving. What Josh doesn¡¯t realize, even though the audience already has, is that his use of the item opened a paranormal portal for a wicked night hag to gradually make Josh murderous.
Now that you have the roadmap, put on a blindfold and start marking common tourist traps along the way. On her trajectory from scientific skeptic poo-pooing supernatural possibilities to frightened believer, odd events plague Gail that she pins on Josh even though he insists he wasn¡¯t involved. Luke and Ruth both know more than they¡¯re saying, but certain turning points spill remaining beans that could have prevented a lot of trouble if everyone had been upfront from the beginning. Besides bringing his new wife and son to the place where his previous wife was murdered, Luke doubles down on dumbness by setting the stage for a climax where he teaches his son how to chop wood, which seems ill-advised considering Josh lost his mom to an ax.
If you stop for a snack, be sure to specify how you like your jump scares served. Is a dream within a dream too plain? How about a ¡°boo!¡± waiting for a refrigerator door to close so it can come out on cue to an audio boost? Get your jolts while they¡¯re hot because most of the movie merely wrings minor mood out of a lot of slow creeping around while ominous music plays underneath.
Obviously, routine roles like possessed kid, frazzled parents, and ¡®Old Person with Information¡¯ aren¡¯t cut with the capacity to attract attentive eyes. Nevertheless, a high quality cast becomes the grace that saves ¡°Dreamkatcher¡¯s¡± redundancy from being entirely uninteresting. You couldn¡¯t ask for better performances under the circumstances, with those circumstances being a standardized spookshow made with milquetoast appeal in mind.
Squeezing more than most could out of minimal minutes onscreen, Henry Thomas puts in legitimate legwork to create an earnestly honest movie dad. Lacing in tics ranging from nearly imperceptible mannerisms to subtle inflections on line readings, Thomas toes a terrific line that gives great shape to the frustrated father and doting dad sides of his character. The warmth Thomas brings makes Luke look like less of an ass when he reenters at the last act curve to dismissively downplay everything his ¡°crazy¡± wife claims happened in his absence.
Finlay Wojtak-Hissong doesn¡¯t do anything special as Josh, but still does a solid job of coming off like a real kid rather than a child actor playing pretend. Josh is just likable enough while retaining an appropriately annoying edge so some of your sympathy can go to Gail too.
Like her co-stars, Radha Mitchell provides all the personality her lightly written mother figure can possibly contain. Lin Shaye does another one of her patented ¡°crazy old lady¡± bits. But this one stays reined in without the wide eyes and excessive shivers that have turned similar parts she has played into caricatures. Director Kerry Harris doesn¡¯t pen any new chapters on how to craft a casual chiller, but Harris does fine work to keep the cast¡¯s dials pointed at the same number.
¡°Dreamkatcher¡± possesses the polish of a larger production, just not the increase in imagination that usually goes with it. If it starred Scarlett Johansson and one of the ¡°Stranger Things¡± kids, the film would have premiered in theaters. It would have been a bomb, but it would have had a higher profile nonetheless.
Along that line of thought, ¡°Dreamkatcher¡± feels a lot like a January theatrical thriller whose lack of star power resulted in a VOD debut. It¡¯s not something anyone specifically seeks out to watch. Yet if it finds you by popping up on a streaming platform when you¡¯re too tired to turn on something else, the film can fill an hour and a half with inoffensive fright fare.
Review Score: 55