DREAMLAND movie poster | ©2020 Uncork’d Entertainment

DREAMLAND movie poster | ©2020 Uncork’d Entertainment

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Stephen McHattie, Henry Rollins, Juliette Lewis, Tomas Lemarquis, Guillaume Kerbusch, Lisa Houle, Themis Pauwels, Morgan Csarno-Peklar
Writers: Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler
Director: Bruce McDonald
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Release Date (theatrical, digital, VOD): June 5, 2020

DREAMLAND has on its side an impressive dual performance by Stephen McHattie, gorgeous production design by Eugenie Collet, superior style, and the pedigree of director Bruce McDonald, who made the excellent PONTYPOOL (also starring McHattie).

However, if a movie is going to venture into the deep darkness of child sex trafficking, it better have a damn good reason for doing so. DREAMLAND wants to offset this with absurdity and magical realism, and just can’t achieve the needed balance.

McHattie stars as a hit man in a cream-colored coat who discovers, to his horror, that his boss Hercules (Henry Rollins) is now expanding into pimping young girls. McHattie also stars as the Maestro, a famous black-clad trumpeter fallen on drug addiction and hard times. Hercules wants his hitman to teach the trumpeter a lesson. Instead, the hitman wants the trumpeter to help him rescue Olivia (Themis Pauwels), a fourteen-year-old neighbor whom Hercules has kidnapped.

There’s a lot more, including an actual vampire, entertainingly played by Tomas Lemarquis, and a hedonistic Countess, played with verve by Juliette Lewis. When we get to the climax, it’s easy to see what director McDonald and writers Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler wanted to accomplish. Taken on its own, the sequence is up there with the best of Tarantino.

But it’s often a slog getting there. There are what feel like endless scenes of the Maestro shooting up, and the hit man smoking and contemplating. McHattie is a compelling actor, but we stop learning anything new about the character before we run out of footage here. We also keep waiting for there to be a point that McHattie is playing both characters, but this is never a plot point (they’re not related, no one notices a resemblance, etc.). This may be intended as deadpan drollery, or to underscore the contrast between the two characters, but the former doesn’t register, and the latter is too underdeveloped to pay off.

There’s also what seems to be the filmmakers’ underestimation of the sheer atrocity factor of the underlying premise. It’s one thing to say “sex trafficking” in dialogue, or even show an endangered child, or even, as Syfy’s HAPPY! has done, make the whole thing so outrageous that we’re aware we’re not in the real world anymore. But DREAMLAND keeps giving us gauzy shots of the minors grouped as prey, without any seeming thought for their humanity or individuality. They’re treated as motivation for the hit man, not people. Even Ophelia spends most of the movie drugged and therefore robbed of agency.

Because this is an actual (as opposed to fantasy) matter that is exacerbated by the dehumanization of the children being trafficked, many viewers will find it hard to detach themselves enough from this to appreciate what the better aspects of DREAMLAND have to offer.

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