Four men, all of whom share an unusual psychic power which estranges them somewhat from the rest of the world, unite at their hunting lodge six months after one of them, Jonesy (Damian Lewis) suffers a horrific car accident. Each of them has been thinking of a fifth, absent member of their group, Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), whom they met and befriended as boys twenty years ago. The five of them made a dreamcatcher – a native American item meant to catch bad dreams – that hangs in the lodge.
Whilst out hunting in the snow-bound forest, Jonesy and Beaver (Jason Lee) come across another hunter wandering in the forest, bearing an odd rash on his face. After they take him in, strange things start to happen – a flood of forest animals rush past their lodge, all bearing the same scar as the hunter, and a pair of military helicopters fly overhead, announcing that the area has been quarrantined. In the meantime, Henry (Thomas Jane) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant), who went to the local store to pick up supplies, run their car off the road when they narrowly avoid hitting another half-frozen hunter (with the same rash on her throat) sitting squarely in the middle of it.
The four friends soon find themselves at the forefront of an invasion that the leader of a secret military unit, Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman) and his second in command, Owen (Tom Sizemore), will do anything to stop…
Dreamcatcher is based on the recent novel by Stephen King, and in fact has some notoriety for being the novel he wrote when recuperating from being hit by a car in 1999. I’ve not yet read the novel (and will confess to not being a King fan) but there’s certainly some carry-over in Jonesy’s car accident; the incident and the minutes afterward are quite vividly portrayed. The movie treats it well, though, referring to it occasionally but not dwelling on it after the first fifteen minutes or so. In fact, the first half-hour is probably the best of the film; we really get to know the four men separately and together, as well as their acceptance of the weird secret that binds them. Unfortunately, the tension has to set in, and it does so in gross-out proportions. There are references to the Alien series of films left, right and centre in Dreamcatcher (in the most obvious reference, Colonel Curtis explains that the rash is code-named “Ripley”). The life cycle of the invaders exhibits a rather unfortunate pre-occupation with bodily functions on the part of the writers, and the screen adaptation was written with a heaping helping of blood and gore. We’re treated to long, detailed looks at the infant stage of the beasts and little of the invaders’ vicious actions is left to the imagination (people who like dogs are advised not to watch).
The rest of the plot features some neat twists on the “catch up with the villain before he kills everyone” formula, but Captain Owen’s change of heart feels rather contrived (especially when both the hero and the invaders demonstrate telepathic powers), and Morgan Freeman’s intelligent and somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Colonel Curtis (when faced with how the invaders operate, you can understand his stance of not letting anyone who’s been infected live, even if the symptoms remit) is ditched halfway through the movie in favour of a gung-ho lunatic who spouts drivel like “You just crossed the line – the Curtis line!”. The ending is anticlimactic; the revelation of Duddits’ secret bears few surprises (you’ll have probably figured it out halfway through the film), and we’re given no idea what the survivors will do next. Still, it does serve as a reminder of how good an actor Donnie Wahlberg is, even though he’s not in it much.
Despite its highlights, Dreamcatcher is really a film for those who enjoy guts-and-gore horror (which is odd, as the characterisation of the first half hour would probably bore them). Anyone else, even SF fans who may be attracted by the invasion premise, would be advised to stay away, especially if you have a weak stomach. (Vickie walked out after the first half-hour.)
Stil, you probably won’t feel like you wasted your ticket money, thanks to the short animated film, Final Flight of the Osiris, that runs before all screenings of Dreamcatcher.
Final Flight of the Osiris is one of the nine Animatrix short animated films. These films, put together by some of Japan’s best anime talent, are all based on 1999’s science-fiction hit The Matrix. Final Flight is the last hurrah for Square USA, who decided to exit the feature film business after their first feature, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, drew only mediocre box office. Fortunately for us, they’ve gone out with a bang.
As the film is very short, I won’t go into the plot for fear of spoiling it. The martial art choreography in the beginning minutes is well done and very sensual (those who don’t understand why Lara Croft is so appealing will get the point after this). The voice acting is done well; that there aren’t any big names involved (Carrie-Anne Moss reprised her role of Trinity for Cowboy Bebop auteur Shinichiro Watanabe’s A Detective Story) makes no matter. The Square team treat the Matrix universe faithfully and with care, and the quality of the computer-generated imagery has not fallen below its Final Fantasy standard (Vickie commented that it was even improved). The action is seamless, sleek and speeding; if there’s only one thing you’ll regret, it’s that it’s over so soon. It serves as a neat little appetiser for The Matrix Reloaded (due to open next month) and stands alone as a brilliant piece of animation and/or action-SF on its own merits. It’s definitely worth the price of admission to Dreamcatcher to see Final Flight on the big screen.