31 Days to Scare ~ In Dreams

The Facts:

Synopsis: A suburban housewife learns that she has psychic connections to a serial killer, and can predict this person’s motives through her dreams.

Stars: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle, Margo Martindale

Director: Neil Jordan

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I wanted to say right off the bat that I’m giving In Dreams a higher score than it probably deserves…or even has rightly earned despite some good intentions. While the overall movie feels like a bit of a clunker by the time is gets to its overblown third act, leading up to it there are some interesting ideas and certainly some intriguing performances.

Based on the novel Doll’s Eyes by Bari Wood (but supposedly wildly different in plot) this one comes to us via Neil Jordan, the writer/director of The Crying Game and screenwriter Bruce Robinson (Jennifer 8). Jordan takes a page from his cult favorite The Company of Wolves and frames In Dreams as part fairy tale, part horror show. Starting strong with visuals of a town that was flooded to make way for a reservoir that’s now the dumping ground for a psychotic killer, Jordan spends the first 45 minutes slowly building the tension but loses his grip when the line between dreams and reality get too blurred.

In the same year she’d go on to receive an Oscar nomination for American Beauty, Annette Bening (Girl Most Likely) is kinda a mess as a wife and mother who discovers she has a psychic link to the person that’s been abducting little girls and leaving their bodies underwater. Bening has grown into such a dependable presence on screen, especially in these last 10 years, but In Dreams was released when she hadn’t quite found her zone yet. She’s either cool and collected, purring her lines to her befuddled husband (Aidan Quinn, Blink) and skeptical shrink (Stephen Rea who should never, ever, attempt the New Yahk accent he tries out here) or she’s totally unhinged, laugh-crying her way through Robinson and Jordan’s chuckle inducing dialogue.

Her performance isn’t even the most bizarre one on display. No, that would be Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as the serial killer toying with Bening and her family. With his hair dyed red and peering at us from behind green contacts, Downey Jr. nails the creepy part of his role but can’t make head or tails of what else he should be doing. This was long before Downey Jr. had his Marvel renaissance and the actor seems fairly adrift here.

There’s some decent atmosphere created, scenes shot in the town underwater and a sinister apple orchard are nice showcases for Darius Khondji’s (Magic in the Moonlight) cinematography and Bening’s visions are nicely done. There’s even an ominous staging of Snow White in the forest starring the actress playing Bening’s daughter and about a three dozen other cherubs. It all adds up to a movie that looks great and has some spooky moments but one that eventually makes absolutely no sense at all…especially a poorly thought out finale that feels like it was reshot late in the game. In reality, In Dreams is a bust but there’s so many good people involved it’s worth watching at least once.

31 Days to Scare ~ Jennifer 8

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A big city cop from LA moves to a small town police force and immediately finds himself investigating a murder.

Stars: Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, Lance Henriksen, John Malkovich, Graham Beckel, Kathy Baker, Kevin Conway

Director: Bruce Robinson

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Jennifer 8 is a mystery/thriller that won’t work for many people but it’s been a reliable favorite of mine over the years.  In all honesty, the more I watch it the more I see the gaps in writer/director Bruce Robinson’s screenplay but it just doesn’t seem to change the way I feel about the movie as a whole.  Rich in atmosphere and at times decently creepy, it has fine performances and a true “what the hell” ending that I find to be a lot of fun.

After his marriage ends in divorce, L.A. policeman John Berlin (Andy Garcia, Ghostbusters) takes an old colleague (Lane Henriksen, Color of Night) up on an offer to join his police force in a remote northern California town.  The sleepy hamlet might be the right place for Berlin to heal and recover from the wounds of his failed union.  Shortly after he arrives a severed hand is discovered in a local dump and when the appendage is identified as belonging to a girl from a local institute for the blind, Berlin becomes embroiled in the case of a serial killer and a blind woman (Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction) who could be the next victim.

There’s a lot that goes on in Jennifer 8 that isn’t fully explained…starting with the title.  A vague reference is made to a string of supposed victims of the killer under the code name Jennifer but the victims don’t add up to 8.  Then there’s a coincidental entry in a notebook from a murdered acquaintance that seems to inadvertently point to Berlin as a potential suspect, necessitating the appearance of John Malkovich (Zoolander 2) as an FBI interrogator out to prove Berlin made up the serial killer to cover his own tracks.  And Robinson adds in so many red herrings that when the solution is revealed you may be tempted to hit rewind to view it again and then pause it to draw the connections together in your head.

What does work for the film are the performances from Garcia, Thurman, and especially Kathy Baker (Saving Mr. Banks) as Henriksen’s wife.  Thurman blank stares with the best of them and Garcia’s frustration boils over so violently that his Cuban accent pops in frequently.  Christopher Young’s (Sinister) piano/string score is beautifully haunting and cinematography from three time Oscar winner Conrad Hall makes excellent use of shadows, the deserted corridors of the institute where a killer hunts, and the rain/snow soaked landscapes of the town.

The resulting film may be a bit overstuffed for audiences and I know there will be those that scoff at the finale Robinson cooks up…but I like it all.  It seems to be made with a classier touch than it probably deserved and though it was box office and critical disappointment I would call this one vastly underrated.  Decide for yourself, though.