Hard Core Logo and Pontypool director Bruce McDonald’s latest film, Dreamland, brings vampire tropes, Lynchian surrealism, and a love of cool Jazz to audiences that may or may not be receptive to the trippy tale.
Dreamland evokes the jumps in logic, tone, and setting that its name implies. The movie is an intentional mishmash that, if you look too closely, may well feel convoluted. Like the Chet Baker-like trumpeting that ties the soundtrack together, this film is best experienced simply washing over you, finding delight in some of the madcap moments and reveling in the playfulness.
Longtime collaborator Stephen McHattie plays two roles (or, perhaps, two sides of the same character). One is an avenging killer, the other a strung-out jazzman. He’s employed by a manic hitman (Henry Rollins) who’s tasked by a local countess (Juliette Lewis) to acquire young blood for her vampiric brother (Tómas Lemarquis). Dashes of Léon and Eyes Wide Shut are sprinkled in, making a manic story that vacillates between somber introspection and bigger-than-life explosions.
For most viewers, this will all be a bit much. The unsettling nature of the film ends up more irritating than inviting on first blush. Yet unlike some of the masturbatory machinations that such “dreamlike” films normally evoke, this one has a genuine sense of fun that makes up for its uncompromising spirit. In many ways, the movie feels like McDonald’s most personal, tying together the elements that have long driven his filmmaking and personal pleasures. It’s as if he tried to make his own version of a Chet Baker bio-pic and wound up with a half-remembered fever delusion where the somber story takes on gangster and vampire genre elements. It’s like when kids draw Superman fighting a dinosaur in space, taking all the stuff they like, mashing it together, and finding some thread to connect. This is how we dream, and in the land of McDonald, you’re going to get something slightly askew. If you’re open to it, you’ll get something entertaining as well.
Dreamland will be a hard sell for most, but the dour violence and grim insanity have a lightness and imaginative quality that feels quite special. Explore it and you’ll find a bit more about McDonald’s subconscious than come may be comfortable. However, those willing to brave these troubled waters will also find a world that’s equal parts violent, tragic, comic, silly and surreal. There’s likely no better way for the director to explore his creative life than through this prism, where so many of the elements of his life, loves, and previous narratives culminate in a quirky, quixotic movie.