[20 March 2003]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
One thing you can say about Dreamcatcher: you can’t really say one thing about it. The film is a wild clutter of previous movie fragments (Men In Black, Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing) and generic hooks (including “Based on a Stephen King novel,” which means it repeats his usual tropes, from childhood flashbacks to mysterious characters named Mr. Something, all seemingly worse here, tin the first book he wrote after his near-death rundown by a car). As such, it runs a zany gamut of images and scares and jokes, featuring an ensemble cast of gooey monsters and panicky men, a remote out-in-the-snowy-woods setting (underlined by a pat reference to Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”), and a dizzying assortment of weapons.
Too bad all these rampaging concepts don’t come to a point, except, maybe, in the bathroom scene that so delights director Lawrence Kasdan. The setup comprises standard horror movie shenanigans: four childhood friends—super-intuitive college professor Jonesy (Damian Lewis), suicidal shrink Henry (Thomas Jane), car salesman Pete (Timothy Olyphant) and big dope Beaver (Jason Lee)—retreat from their workaday lives at a cabin in Maine, where they remember the good old days of 20 years ago. Yes indeed, that was when each was granted his own special telepathic gift, by pale and shivery little Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), the cute, retarded, mind-reading kid they save from local bullies.
Having fondly remembered this (via a couple of those flashbacks where each of the boys sports a sign of his later self: red hair, noble ‘tude, dorky comportment), the guys endeavor to enjoy their holiday. In furtherance of the plot, this involves splitting up: Henry and Pete are driving back from the market when they flip their car while trying to avoid hitting a frozen lady in the road; meanwhile, Jonesy and Beav tend to the frozen lady’s erstwhile companion, discovered stumbling toward the guys’ cabin, his face blotchy red, his bloated body belching, farting, and undulating.
It turns out both the stragglers have been infected by wormy parasites: much like the aliens in Alien, these incubate for a while in the human body, then emerge in bloody, slimy awful splat, from the anus. Hence, the aliens’ designations, by the crack military unit assigned to destroy them, as “Ripleys” or “shit weasels.”
All this leads to the bathroom scene. Jonesy and Beav find their guest sitting on the toilet, insisting he just needs to “make some room,” before the weasel evacuates and scuttles across the floor, pausing to reveal its multiple vagina dentate teeth and make the usual alien trilling sounds. It proceeds to chomp up one of the buddies, leaving behind a rowdy red mess to be discovered by the second, who is appropriately panicked—especially when he’s confronted by a towering alien with the usual big-almond-eyed alien head, with the added accessory of the shit weasel, now crawling around up the alien’s alarmingly long limbs and across its stooped shoulders like a slithering pet boa.
To be fair, the scene is remarkable in its way. The entire cabin becomes a sign of the incursion, turning against its inhabitants, every surface covered by a dark, creeping red crud. Once straggler guy has relieved himself and summarily died, Beav, quick-thinking, flushes, slams down the lid, and plants himself on it, as the weasel makes repeated efforts to force its way back up and out.
And honestly, making the toilet—that most mundane, private, and fearsome of sites—the location of body-invasion terror, might seem a clever idea, especially if you’re 12. The scene is cut together to underline its cleverness, with tension-building cross-cutting to Jonesy searching desperately for duct tape out in the shed (obviously, no one knew how resonant this image would be, now), while Beav frets and errs (comically and fatally), on the throne inside.
However you want to parse this pile-on of metaphors, the result is grim and, likely, smelly. By the time Henry returns to the scene to discover one of the weasels has laid a neat little pile of eggs on the bed, it’s clear what must be done: he’s got to nuke the planet. Er, torch the cabin.
Henry’s efforts to find his missing buddy Jonesy becomes the film’s primary trajectory. This is complicated by a couple of factors, each bizarre in its own way. One, Jonesy’s mind is figured literally, a place called the Memory Warehouse. The film repeatedly cuts to shots of Jonesy moving and organizing wheelbarrows full of file folders in a series of rooms on floors connected by a and elaborate circular ramp system. Whenever Jonesy argues with the alien who takes over his body, named, for no discernable reason, Mr. Grey, he’s pictured looking out the window (of his mind?), observing his physical self doing the sinister, strangely English-accented Mr. Grey’s bidding. And whenever he has an idea that he somehow hides from Mr. Grey, he’s scurrying about in his Warehouse, gathering files and breathing hard.
And two, Henry, who is at least as cerebral as Jonesy, must deal with his own immediate physical threat, the aforementioned military unit, headed by Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman). Ominously—and obviously—named Kurtz in King’s novel, the Colonel has been waging a personal war against the aliens for some 25 years, which has left him not only wise and weary, but also quite loony-tunes. He spits some of the most eccentric dialogue this side of John Wayne, calling all his boys “Bucko,” insisting they swear by “Scouts’ honor,” wary of the “blizzard of bullshit” that he presumes is on its way to smack him down. When he brings in his second, Underhill (perpetually inventive and apparently certifiable Tom Sizemore), Curtis really starts acting out, shooting at his own men and locking up all civilians who may or may not have come into contact with the aliens.
Henry, one of those citizens so roughly rounded up, uses his mind-reading abilities to impress Underhill (plainly seeking a way to get back at his father figure), and before you know it, the two handsome heroic types are bouncing along in a military vehicle, rushing to their fated, final encounter.
It is here that the film runs its most audacious gambit, a disjointed, goofball moment that belongs in another movie entirely. It begins when Henry asks to see Underhill’s fancy pearl-handled weapon, a gift from his father-figure, unnecessarily underscoring the film’s homoerotic predilection (recall that the only women appear for a moment each, and are: a] frozen, and b] someone’s mom). Henry mutters something about his earnest desire to hear from Duddits, and lo, the phone rings. What phone? The gun, transformed into a phone, though whether in his mind, Duddits’ mind, or heck, Jonesy’s Warehouse, is unclear. The two have a conversation, and then, the magic moment ends.
At this point, lack of clarity seems apposite. As adapted by Kasdan and William Goldman (who also adapted King’s Misery and Hearts in Atlantis), Dreamcatcher just can’t seem to get out of its own way. The inevitable series of action-ated showdowns grabs imagery and ideas from several well-known sources, resulting in a mishmash of a conflagration that can’t possibly cohere and has its human protagonists standing around with their mouths open, responding to a confrontation of green-screened creatures that makes the battle between Godzilla and Mothra look sophisticated.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/dreamcatcher/