What if when someone went to sleep, whatever they dreamt of at night manifested in the space around them as real, tangible and sometimes very dangerous apparitions ? This concept and much more is explored in Mike Flanagan’s sensational Before I Wake, a film that somehow slipped past my radar back in 2016 but I caught up with it last night and, like most of Flanagan’s output, fell in love with this story. There’s just something so clear, emotionally resonant, palpably scary and well woven about this guy’s horror work in cinema and television, he’s my new muse in the genre. This tells the story of a very special young boy called Cody (Jacob Tremblay from Room and Doctor Sleep), who has the elemental power to project his dreams as reality when asleep. This can be both beautiful and terrifying because, like any human being, he has both good and bad dreams. His gift makes it hard to stay with one foster family for long before things get out of hand, until one couple (Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth), already grieving the loss of their own child, decide to take him in. At first it’s just butterflies that inhabit their house when he sleeps, but he has a recurring phantom who won’t leave him alone, a gaunt, gnarly fiend he calls The Canker Man, and this dude is anything but harmless. Bosworth and Jane wrestle with their own suffering while trying to help him and figure out the esoteric properties of his gift before his demons spread. Bosworth is a quiet, observant actress not prone to dramatic histrionics or screen mugging, she has deep, soulful eyes and a drawn nature that hides emotional wells beneath and I enjoyed her work greatly here. Jane is the paradigm of gruff, alpha exteriors and doesn’t often get roles that showcase his vulnerable side but he’s fantastic here, laidback with emotion simmering on low. Tremblay is just pure talent, representing my hometown solidly and doing a terrific job here, as always. The cast is full of wonderful genre faces including Annabeth Gish as a compassionate social worker, Jay Karnes as a grief therapy counsellor, Courtney Bell and the always memorable Dash Mihok as a tortured former foster dad of Cody’s. I love films themed on dreams, especially in and around the horror genre and this is an exceptional piece. It’s scary, cerebral, character based, beautifully lit with splendid special effects and one gut punch of a twist ending that will get your tear ducts going in overdrive and is a showcase example of inspired storytelling. I have yet to see less than excellent work from Flanagan and his team, this being one of the best.
As we sat down to watch Mel Gibson’s latest direct to video flick Force Of Nature, we barely got halfway in before my roommate commented “whoever wrote this movie has serious cognitive issues.” I agree. This is a hurtin’ ass excuse for entertainment. It’s like one of those text posts where someone forces an algorithm bot to watch over fifty hours of any given genre or existing property and have it write its own skewed, bizarre version of said material. Well a bot would have done a better job writing a ‘hurricane heist cop thriller thing’ than whoever penned this. As a category 5 storm descends on Puerto Rico, various random characters with no sense of direction or personality converge around a waterlogged apartment complex, unable to leave, coexist or tell a story that makes sense. The world’s most sarcastic cop (Emile Hirsch) and his partner (Stephanie Cayo) are tasked with evacuating stragglers, including some dude caught trying to buy one hundred pounds of beef from a supermarket to feed a literal jaguar that lives in his closet. Meanwhile a gang of psychotic thieves led by a weirdo who calls himself John The Baptist (David Zayas from Dexter) prowl the building shooting anything that moves and looking for stolen Picasso paintings passed down through a family of nazis. Mel Gibson himself plays a super grumpy, terminally ill ex cop with an exaggerated Chicago accent who refuses to leave his apartment with his nurse daughter (Kate Bosworth). Everyone runs around chaotically from apartment to apartment doing nothing in particular, the rain pours outside but never really escalates beyond intense downpour into legit hurricane weather, and… fuck I dunno man, I don’t even feel like this deserves proper punctuation or attention in a review because it obviously doesn’t give two shits about it’s audience enough to even try. Nothing makes sense, it’s impossible to care about anything going on, all the plot points and characters beats are so off the wall and I found myself just really wondering why this thing was even made at all, much less why respectable folks like Hirsch, Zayas or Mel friggin Gibson would be attached. Bosworth at least has a sheepish excuse because she’s married to the director, but even then she’s pushing her luck. A solid contender for the worst film of the year and not something I recommend you waste ninety minutes of your precious life on. The only Force Of Nature to be found here is this thing’s compelling ability to make the viewer get up off the couch and leave the room.
I’ve always thought of this as the Oliver Stone Movie that the man never made. It has the sordid, excessive sleaziness of U Turn, and the studious inquisition into true crime and intriguing Americana that he showed us in JFK. Both films explore the violence and ugliness that peppers American history in different ways, the brash and the academic which often exist in opposite poles colliding in Wonderland, a wholeheartedly nasty account of a stomach churning multiple murder involving one of the most infamous porn stars who ever lived, John Holmes (Val Kilmer). I don’t know what the real Holmes was like (besides tell rumours of his anaconda cock), but the version we see here is a sniveling, unrepentant scumbag who is very hard to empathize with unless you flip the nihilism switch on in your brain and lose yourself in it. The film follows his association with a group of fellow undesirables, interested only in furthering their own drug habits by any means necessary, legal or otherwise. John is late in bis career and on the cusp of being a washout, his underage girlfriend (Kate Bosworth) pretty much the only friend he has in the world. He spends his days getting involved in all kinds of smutty business, along with a crew of fellow junkies led by loose cannon Josh Lucas, grim biker Dylan McDermott and timid Tim Blake Nelson. When they collectively catch wind of the wealth of one of John’s acquaintances, a dangerous club owning mobster (Eric Bogosian in full psycho mode), the dollar signs swirl in their already dilated pupils. After an ill advised robbery, Bogosian reacts with all the wrath of the Israeli mafia, fuelled by his personal vendetta, brutally slaughtering each and every one of John’s gang, letting him live as a branded snitch. The film is based on notoriously grisly crime scene photos which can be seen online, laying speculation on Holmes’s part in the killings, and spinning a sinfully chaotic, noisy web of pulpy hijinks surrounding the case. The film is told from two different perspectives, a fractured narrative laid down by Kilmer and McDermott in respective and very different summaries of the event. Ted Levine and Franky G. play the two detectives who take it all in and work the case, and the excellent M.C. Gainey plays a veteran ex cop who they bring simply because he’s the only familiar face which skittish Holmes will open up to. This is an ugly, nasty film and I won’t pretend it doesn’t get very gratuitous both in dialogue and action. It goes the extra mile of obscenity and then some in its efforts to make us squirm, but every time I pondered the necessity of such sustained atrocities, I reminded myself that in real life there’s even more of such stuff, and the film is just trying to hit the themes of decay home hard, albeit with a sledgehammer, not a whiffle ball bat in this case. Kilmer is fidgety brilliance as Holmes, a severely damaged dude who hangs onto the last strand of our sympathy by the wounded dog whine in his voice alone. The only time I felt anything for the dude is when he visits his estranged ex wife (a flat out fantastic Lisa Kudrow, cast against type and nailing it) and we see flickers of a dignity in him that’s long since been consumed by darkness. One of his best roles for sure. Watch for further work from Michael Pitt, Louis Lombardi, Janeane Garofalo, Scoot Mcnairy, Christina Applegate, Faizon Love, Chris Ellis, Paris Hilton and Natasha Gregson Warner too. This one is like Boogie Nights, Rashomon and Natural Born Killers tossed in together on spin dry. It’s a wicked concoction, but you’ll need to bring a strong stomach and the foreknowledge that you’re going to be spending two hours with some of the most deplorable human beings this planet has to offer. The silver lining is you get to see it all play out in killer style, smoky and evocative 1970’s cinematography and dedicated thespians branding each scene with their own lunacy. Tough to swallow, but great stuff.