Grade: A-
Year: 2003
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay)
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
By Editor

In one of the most extraordinary scenes I've seen in a long time, our heroes gaze out their cabin window to the sight of animals on the run. Not just a few or any one particular kind of animal, we're talking about the entire kingdom. From rabbits to deer to bears, every animal is making an exodus out of the snowy forest. We don't know why they're running; we only need to be concerned about what or whom they're running from.

"Dreamcatcher" is a smorgasbord of Stephen King techniques. The most noticeable reference is the strong character relationship that hasn't been done this well (including non-King films) since "IT," another Stephen King spin about a deadly clown. The strong bonding creates multi-dimensional personalities rarely seen in horror films.

Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan is a veteran with plenty of experience. He collaborated on a few "Star Wars" episodes and "Raiders of the Lost Arc," but "Dreamcatcher" is his biggest film as the main guy in both the writing and directing departments.

The movie is about--well, a lot of things. Like all Stephen King stories, this one too pits itself in the by-now nightmarish city of Derry, Maine. We are introduced to our four heroes, Dr. Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane), Beaver (Jason Lee), Jonesy (Damian Lewis), and Pete (Timothy Olyphant). As children, they were best friends and would soon become even closer when they would rescue a retarded child, Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), from the torture of the schoolyard bullies.

After his rescue, Duddits gave each one of the boys the ability to read minds, which sometimes allows them to see into the future. This part of the plot is told in a flashback when the guys were young, but the rest of the movie takes place when they're adults, with a few more cutbacks to childhood. Before the plot-ball gets rolling, we see just how well these special powers are used, as each one of them takes advantage of their abilities in the careers and daily routines.

As adults, the guys have made it a ritual to get together every winter for a weekend of hunting and gathering in their usual cabin out in the forest. But this year, something goes wrong. Locals start acting funny, and of course the animals realize something dangerous has arrived.

That thing is an alien force. There appears to be a few different species of aliens. The ones that become parasites resemble the creatures from "Alien." They are long bodies with razor sharp teeth at the mouth and they leave a trail of slime in their paths. Before anyone gets the chance to leave the site, Col. Abraham Kurtz (Morgan Freeman) arrives to quarantine the entire are where the aliens are believed to have begun infesting and infecting. Kurtz and his team which number in the hundreds aren't affiliated with the United States government, but are instead their own militia known as the 'blue unit.' They will stop at nothing to destroy the invading aliens, even if it means killing the humans who have been infected with the parasites.

Some of the techniques used in this film are too brilliant for words. Take Jonesy for example. He has what is called a Memory Warehouse. Does everyone possesses a memory warehouse? We don't know, but only Jonesy knows how to tap into his. The warehouse is a library containing all of Jonesy's memories. It's small in circumference, but ascends infinitely. Each floor is packed with bookshelves that contain boxes categorized by memory. One box is labeled "Lies," and in that box is a stack of books detailing every lie Jonesy has said or been told in his life. In his warehouse is an office where he seeks refuge once an alien takes control of his body. Although the alien also controls his mind, Jonesy can at least fight it and force a split-personality between the alien and the real Jonesy.

There is another brilliant scene where Col. Kurtz and his team in their Apache helicopters engage the mother-ship that landed out in the woods. Now the aliens look like the typical long-headed creatures with skinny bodies and wide eyes. With the ability to speak directly into humans' minds, the creatures plead for their lives when the helicopters approach. "Don't hurt us." "We need help." These words fill the soldiers' heads as Col. Kurtz urges them to resist the false cries.

"What is this film's biggest problem, you ask? Unfortunately, it can't sustain the level of suspense it held in the first half. A few things here and there will at least make your head jolt, but the experienced horror movie-goer won't be fooled, therefore that select crowd will have to appreciate the great filmmaking.

And by filmmaking, I mean everything that pieces the puzzle together. Cinematographer John Seale's imagery is beautiful, and James Newton Howard's haunting musical score is flawless. It allows the movie to be chilly when it needs to be, and other times upbeat, getting us in the mood for action.

"Dreamcatcher" isn't a really good horror movie, but that is why I look at it as everything else. While there is still some suspense and few shocks and surprises, most of it is action and good drama. The characters are likable which is always good for this genre, and the dialogue, for the most part is witty. I always know when a movie has done a good job developing its characters when my colleague tells me, "I liked it, but I wish that character hadn't died so soon/at all." You know that when the audience cares for the people in a horror movie, something was done right. In this case, few will still be standing by the movie's end.

I found myself doing something I never do in movies, at one point I actually clapped with other audience members at certain times. For one, much of the dialogue is funny and intelligent. One like that comes to mind is said by Kurtz in reference to this town's population unaware of the alien invasion. "Those poor suckers! They drive Chevrolets, they shop at Wal-Mart and they never miss an episode of 'Friends.' If we start (processing) them at 2, we can be done by 2:30!"

"Dreamcatcher" is a great movie with some unforgettable moments. A statement of caution: Some scenes will make weak-stomachs turbulent as these aliens don't use the orthodox method of exiting their hosts, which is usually via mouth or stomach. And because these guys go where the sun doesn't shine, critics have been quick to scold and write this film off as "disgusting" and "off-colored." Yes, some of what takes place can be considered gross, but it wrong with a film breaking cliché? Maybe it's not dinner-conversation appropriate, but the way these aliens operate seem as plausible as any other alien from a different film.

"Dreamcatcher" will be enjoyed by King fans, but I'm also confidently recommending it for all with the willing-stomachs. There isn't as much horror as I would have liked, and the ending does get a little sloppy, but those things are forgivable thanks to the strong first-half and creative devices such as the memory warehouse. There is a lot of grossing-out, but there is also a lot of beauty that all fans of great cinematography and art-directing must experience.

UPDATE: Get more analysis of "Dreamcatcher" (1000+ words) in the premium section of Aggressive-Voice Movie Reviews. The premium review explains in detail why the majority of critics didn't like this great movie. Become a premium member today at no cost, and see Scott be the un-official critic doctor for a day, as well as get the extended analysis you'll find nowhere else.

Premium Review includes:

What Roger Ebert failed to see
Why People magazine was clueless

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