Sunday, March 13, 2011

Underrated "In Dreams" darkly riveting

In Dreams (1999) 
100 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

Though underestimated, "In Dreams" is a nightmarish, atmospheric, and darkly original film. Annette Bening plays Claire Cooper, a woman living a satisfied life with her husband (Aidan Quinn), who flies 747s for a living, and a young daughter, Rebecca (Katie Sagona), who's practicing her lines for her school play of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." For a while, Claire has been having recurring dreams about a missing girl in an apple orchard being led away by a figure with long red hair. After Rebecca goes missing, Claire seems to hold the key to the location of the disappearing children through clairvoyant premonitions of the murderer's next move. Her life begins to unravel, causing everyone around her to believe she is insane. 

"In Dreams" is a psychological horror drama, but as directed by Neil Jordan (1992's "The Crying Game" and 1994's "Interview With the Vampire"), it's not purely a genre picture. The film can be as confusing as a dream and unpleasant, especially for parents, but it's rather imaginative and often riveting. After one of Claire's premonitions leads to the Carlton Hotel, her family's missing dog, and another dead body, it's a head-scratcher why the character whom she sees dead is not told this in time. However, the outcome of this premonition is less important than the ominous, suspenseful staging of it, which owes some inspiration to Mrs. Bate's quick, stairway-set attack in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." 

Every disturbingly eerie image is gorgeously visualized by Darius Khondji's cinematography, from the opening scene of an underwater ghost town, to the forest setting of Rebecca's play, to the apple orchard. The color-red motif might seem overdone, but it's motivated and not used distractingly under Jordan's sure hand. Also, the finale could've come off as an annoying cop-out, but it's satisfying and reminds of 1992's "Candyman." Bening is extraordinarily good as Claire, who could've very well been a stock Woman in Peril with a less trained actress, and Robert Downey Jr. is quite creepy as Vivian, the serial killer with a troubled past. "In Dreams" will be hard to forget.

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