The good news for all of us who have been seeing the trailer for DREAMCATCHER since the early Pleistocene Era is that it >doesnt< give everything away. There are plenty of twists, turns and surprises in this elegant and sometimes witty horror flick that is full of invention and characters that rise nicely above the usual gore fodder that inhabit flicks like this.
The story begins with four lifelong friends. Theyre nice guys, full of entertaining guy-type chat and the sort of decent moral values that set an example without devolving into an annoying preachiness. And while theyve all taken different paths in life, from used car salesman to psychiatrist, theyve remained tight. Perhaps this is because of a special talent they all share, a sort of clairvoyance with a dash of telepathy, so that they can do things like really deep analysis and finding lost keys. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes the people that theyre trying to help run screaming from the room. Lifes like that.
Theyre spending yet another annual holiday deep in the snowy Maine woods, looking forward to bonding and to unwinding from the workaday world. Since this is based on a Stephen King story, and weve seen the trailer, some of us many, many times, we know that this idyllic interlude is just a way station on the way to something very scary and not for the faint of heart.
The surprise is how deftly, one might even use the word subtly, that events unfold. It all starts with a strange and ominously beautiful migration of every animal in the woods past the guys cabin, followed by a disoriented hunter who takes shelter with them. With a series of burps and farts of ever growing and finally epic proportions, the hunter unleashes a beastie that resembles nothing so much as a vagina dentate. To complete the Freudian implications, this beasties favorite target is the organs of generation. In a nice touch, the two pals who are there at the time of the creatures appearance, react pretty much the way you and I would, which is to say, they dont want to go into the bathroom (dont ask) to find out exactly whats going on in there.
Of course it doesnt stop there. As a matter of fact, that brings us only through the first half-hour or so. The real big bad nasty is yet to be revealed and its a toss-up which is scarier, the monster, whose actually identity should best be left as a surprise, or the elite military unit sent to destroy it. Headed up by Morgan Freeman, this gung-ho gang ruthlessly hunts and terminates not so much because it needs doing as because they enjoy it, particularly Morgans character, who may or may not have gone nuts after years of doing this sort of work.
For all the wholesale creepiness, things that include watching an unwholesome looking spongy red mold slowly consume everything in sight, its the characters that drive the story. The pals are fully realized and eminently likable as played by Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, and particularly Damien Lewis, who wowed us in BAND OF BROTHERS and THE FORSYTHE SAGA and who here runs a gamut of emotions and characters that are not only on target, but a delight to watch. The fact that we come to care about them, both individually and as a group, makes Lawrence Kasdans direction all the more effective. With him, when the things that go bump not just in the night but pretty much anytime they want, inevitably do the jump-and-scare routine, its played out with nice timing aimed for maximum jump-and-scream in the audience. He also eschews any more visuals of the creatures and what they do than absolutely necessary, allowing us to use our imagination to fill out the rest, knowing that nothing he can show on screen can match what we can conjure up for ourselves, particularly with the evocative sound effects that are layered in.
Things do fall apart in the final 20 minutes with the story becoming a straightforward race against the end of the world. The final payoff isnt as satisfying as it could have been, having been telegraphed to us throughout the final hour. Theres little surprise and visually, its bland, despite the prevailing sense of mayhem. There are also more than a few whiffs of Kings earlier work, STAND BY ME, with flashbacks showing the guys as kids ready to defy all odds to save a mentally handicapped kid from some bullies. But balance it out with strong characters and touches such as a deliciously wry take on a memory palace that allows us to glimpse the inner workings of one characters mind while his body is possessed by the monster, and youve got a dandy and deeply scary night out at the movies.