Color, 1998, 100 mins.

Directed by Neil Jordan

Starring Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Robert Downey, Jr., Stephen Rea, Paul Guilfoyle / Produced by Stephen Wolley / Music by Elliot Goldenthal / Cinematography by Darius Khondji

Format: DVD - Dreamworks (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Though he only recently gained mainstream recognition with The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire, Irish director and novelist Neil Jordan caught the eyes of several horror and arthouse devotees back in 1984 with his stylish The Company of Wolves, an erotic, unsettling collaboration with writer Angela Carter which pried open the seamy psychosexual underbelly of the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Thirteen years later, Jordan returned to the fairy tale milieu with In Dreams, a widely misunderstood horrific fantasy in which the Snow White story is interwoven into a modern tale of loss and psychic torment.

Claire Cooper (Bening in her strongest performance since The Grifters), an illustrator of children's novels, finds her marital happiness and sanity being tested by a series of recurring dreams involving a young girl being led by a dark, long-haired stranger through a moonlit apple orchard. Her husband, Paul (Quinn), goes along with her claims, even to the point of going to police when Claire (as in "clairvoyant," get it?) believes her visions involve an actual serial killer prone to dumping his young victims into a reservoir filled with the remains of a town flooded in 1965. Strangely, Claire also begins to have visions of a young boy chained to a bed inside an underwater town, and after an unexpected tragedy hits close to home, she finds the line between dreams and reality becoming increasingly blurry... which doesn't help when she winds up face to face with the killer.

Critical and mass response to In Dreams largely dismissed it as "weird" and "stupid," and for anyone expecting a linear, traditional horror film, these terms are understandable. Though this is technically an American film, In Dreams (originally shot under the puzzling title Blue Vision) has "European" stamped all over it. The plot intentionally defies traditional lines of logic and often unexpectedly shifts gears without warning; furthermore, its surreal, startling imagery is some of the strongest the U.S. horror genre has seen since Candyman (with which this shares more than a few narrative similarities). This film works best if experienced on an almost entirely sensory level, thanks in no small part to Darius Khondji's dazzling cinematography (the varied dream sequences are all knockouts), Jordan's skillful use of camera movement and cross cutting throughout the major suspense scenes, and best of all, the jittery, experimental score by Elliot Goldenthal, which often uses wispy female vocals and shuddering electric guitars to dazzling effect. For an interesting experience, compare this film with Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome, which also concerns a woman whose shared visions with a serial killer cause him to stalk and torment her, eventually leading to her complete mental breakdown (signified by a change in hairstyle) and her imprisonment in his remote countryside lair. Oddly enough, both films also share a peculiar fascination with bloody lip-biting... However, In Dreams' hypnotic flow is disrupted by a few unfortunate flaws. After such a powerful, malefic buildup, Robert Downey, Jr.'s on-camera performance as the killer in the final quarter of the film is bound to be a letdown, though he tries mightily (perhaps too hard). Also, as Claire's psychiatrist, Stephen Rea sports an inexpicable Dan Hedaya accent that renders some of his lines unintentionally comic. These glitches aside, In Dreams is far more fascinating and rewarding than the recent teen slasher swill, proving that edgy adult horror is still possible (though perhaps not encouraged, judging by the disappointing box office returns).

While this is much more daring than most Dreamworks projects, the DVD has been treated with the same care as their more high profile releases. The beautiful anamorphically enhanced transfer shimmers with the bizarre autumnal color schemes which made this such a haunting experience in the theater, and the highly manipulative, often jarring Dolby Digital soundtrack is just as terrifying at home. The only extras are cast and crew bios and the U.S. theatrical trailer.

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