I hadn't really intended to review this, but I watched it the other night and was struck by one major thing. Something that...well, it did not sink the movie, but it came close. Up until about minute 50 or so this movie really had me. No untoward stupidity. People doing what I thought they might do, not knowing they were in a horror movie. Lots of good atmosphere and general creepiness. Then...the toothpick.
I suppose I should start at the beginning. We have these four Best Friends who, back when they were kids, once saved a mentally handicapped boy from some bullies. In return, somehow it's made clear he gave them some sort of mental powers. They can read minds every now and then, and can sense from a distance if one of their number is in trouble. Now they're all adults, and still Best Friends and they meet regularly at some cabin up in the mountains during the Winter, where they hunt, drink beer, relax, and stuff, and stuff. This year, there was a possibility that the party would have to be called off, because one of them (Bearded Guy) was hit by a car and pronounced dead, though he was revived and seems okay. He walks with a limp, but otherwise is fine. So the party is back on.
So, up in the cabin, things are cool. All four are having fun. And two of them (Thomas Jane and Nondescript Guy) go out to get some supplies, while the other two (Bearded Guy and Glasses Guy) stay behind. And this hunter who's lost in the woods stumbles on the cabin. They take him in to the cabin, and he has a lot of (intestinal) gas problems. Turns out it's because there's a giant alien worm in his intestine! A pretty cool-gross worm, with a face full of (pretty impractical) teeth at one end, and an egg-laying thing at the other. It gets out of this guy in the bathroom (yes, in the obvious way), and the two Best Friends trap it in the toilet. One of the friends, Glasses Guy, who looks like Justin Theroux from Mulholland Drive, sits on the lid to keep it there, while Bearded Guy goes to get something to shut the lid permanently.
And now, ladies and
gentlemen...the toothpick! Justin Theroux looking guy has a
toothpick fetish or something. He's always chewing on them, drinking
around them, and so forth. So, in the bathroom now, Justin Theroux
guy has to have a toothpick, but he spills them all on the rather
bloody bathroom floor. He's got to have one, but he doesn't want one
that has blood all over it (the worm killed the hunter guy pretty
messily), so he reaches and stretches to get a clean one, all the
while the worm-thing is thrashing in the toilet. So, it's not like
Justin could have forgotten it was there. Well, he gets his
toothpick, but he has to take some weight off the toilet seat to do
so, thus he also gets a very mad worm loose in the bathroom.
Good heavens, folks. Yeah, I have my little fetishes too, but if getting hold of one meant releasing some very, very bad creature, who was probably (based on available evidence, not to mention anger at being trapped in a toilet) going to try to kill me, I think I could do without. No—I know I could do without. I'm sure anyone else could, too. That's where the film-makers (and maybe novelist Stephen King too, I haven't read the book) fall down. You have to have people in your movies NOT be dumber than your audience. It's the old I'm-in-a-creepy-house-and-I-think-I'll-go-into-the-basement thing. You can have people do that if there's a compelling reason, and Mr. King and Co rightly dump on people too lazy to provide one. (Here's a possible reason: Justin is a diabetic who needs, instead of a toothpick, his insulin meds, if he doesn't get them, he's going to pass out and release the worm anyway. And that's just off the top of my head). Here in Dreamcatcher, it's a real shame. The first 50 minutes are great, atmospheric and eerie and suspenseful (like I said). Then they blow it on this stupid toothpick thing. You know, if you have to do this (and I'm not saying you do) make it a life-or-death thing, like I did a couple of lines ago. He has to get to his diabetes medicine. Or his dialisys machine. Or his, um, cat's bothering him and he's tired of being clawed, so he's going to get a cat toy to occupy the cat. Anything, please, but something that is not going to make the audience (which includes me) say, “Oh, you idiot!”
Anyway, worm kills Justin, and Bearded Guy returns just in time to see this, and shut the bathroom door on the worm. But the worm gets out anyway, under the door, and slithers away...the camera follows this for a bit, until the worm jumps up onto this huge damn alien, who looks like a standard “Grey” alien, only he's obviously a football player and the usual small Greys of popular culture are circus midgets. Bearded Guy looks pretty damn screwed unless Superman shows up, but this isn't a Superman movie. There's a cool visual effect of Grey kind of...exploding into a mist and swirling around Bearded Guy. Looks bad for you, Bearded Guy!
Then, we are introduced to
Morgan Freeman, who is a great, commanding actor. He plays a
military bad-ass who knows this stuff happening now (it's not just
happening to our four Best Pals, in fact, the two left-behind pals
saw a parade of forest animals all marching like under some
compelling alien force) is part of an alien plot to take over the
world, and he and his men are doing what they can to contain this.
He asks a subordinate some questions and, based on his feelings
(feelings are a big part of this show, as evidenced by the great
opening), shoots off one of his fingers since he knows the guy was
So: are we supposed to be thinking something? Is this act supposed to lead us to some conclusions? Well, ordinarily, I'd say yes—it's meant to show us that Morgan Freeman is not only a bad-ass, he's also a bad guy, and he is wrong about everything, like Donald Sutherland in Outbreak. So, we (the audience members) aren't supposed to like it if things go his way, and are supposed to be happy when they don't. Granted, this is all speculation not even an hour into this movie, so I would be happy to be proved wrong. But I just wonder if the Hollywood Disease can ever be combated. Wouldn't it be something if Morgan Freeman was shown to be right? That, if you were working against him, because you thought he was a bad-ass and shot fingers for no reason, you were in the wrong? Yes, I can see that happening here, but only after Morgan Freeman got messily killed and the aliens escaped. Then, there'd be lots of soul-searching and moaning and such, while the hero wishes he'd acted differently and we're left with a depressing ending where the aliens win.
Anyway, none of that has happened yet. I'm just speculating. I am, as always, happy to be proved wrong. And if I am, I will give the film full props. While I make every effort to be objective in these reviews, I am only human (sorry) and I've seen a lot of movies, and it's just my natural impluse to a) jump ahead to what I think might happen and b) be pretty cynical in my predictions. When I'm wrong, you'll hear it. When I'm right...sorry. Honestly.
Back to the film...though Morgan Freeman's eyebrows are way distracting. I mean, completely distracting, to the point when he appears on screen, you say “Argh! What are those!” You know, I hope those aren't his real eyebrows cause I just insulted him, I think. Sorry, man. Anyway, turns out he was right about the subordinate lying. And he says that he's going to rely on Tom Sizemore to do the work. But all the angles on Tom, and the music, and so on, tell me that Tom is going to Do What's Morally Right and to hell with the aliens. C'mon film, prove me wrong! Please?
Well, anyway, then. When the movie left Morgan Freeman, it started getting good again, with a lot of creepiness and good atmosphere. And it turns out Bearded Guy is now either duplicated or infected by the Football Grey. He and it argue a lot, but it turns out Football Grey can read all of Bearded Guy's mind but some parts, probably something having to do with the retarded boy. (Bearded Guy is kind of in a house or something, with all these boxes with labels on them, representing memories. It's pretty confusing at first.)
And while all that was happening in the cabin, the other Best Friends (Thomas Jane and Nondescript Guy) are driving back to the cabin. They nearly hit some lady sitting in the middle of the road, and crash their truck. Turns out she's the hunter's wife, and she's infected too, though they don't know that yet. Thomas Jane goes on to the cabin, where he finds Justin dead, and the whole place covered in reddish fungus or something. And a Justin-killing worm on the bed, laying eggs. He gets some lighter fluid and burns the whole place down. Yes, he spills the matches, and he only has one left, and the eggs start hatching, and little tiny worms are streaming after him like crazy, but he does get the match lit and burns everything down. So while that was one of those cliches I tend to dislike (it's not what's going to happen, it's how long is it going to take?), it wasn't done too badly.
Meanwhile, Nondescript Guy has gone back to the overturned truck and is limping back with arms laden with booze, to the fire with Infected Woman. He drinks and talks to her, saying he thought the retarded boy was probably from another planet, sent to save them. Of course, she doesn't answer, she's dead, and the worm is out, and it attacks him but he throws himself on the fire to get it off him! Pretty cool and smart. It attacks again and he burns it (and himself in the face) with a torch.
Nondescript But Burned Guy stumbles back toward the cabin and meets Bearded Guy And Grey Combo. But NBBG knows something is wrong, so Bearded Grey starts talking in his natural (Grey-natural) voice which is (as NBBG puts it) like a James Bond villain. Bearded Grey wants to get to the nearest big city. And this is odd—Bearded Guy is IN the cabin, trying to telepathically warn Nondescript Guy. But the cabin is (at this point) either covered in red glop or burned down. And Bearded Guy looks out the peephole in the cabin door (didn't know they had those) and sees Grey's eye saying, “Let me in!” So I'm guessing that this is the part of BG's mind that Grey can't read, and it's represented visually as the cabin. But it's just a guess.
Some helicopters are heading toward the alien crash site, and in another cool bit, the aliens start talking mentally to the pilots, saying “Please don't hurt us, we're not bad, we're dying, please don't hurt us” and so on, all in the voices of women and children. But Morgan says this is an old trick of theirs, and he and Tom are gonna rock and roll on them. Which we know is good because we know the damn aliens are evil. (The only friendly person to come out of someone's butt has been Mr. Hankey so far.)
It's hard to see what happens specifically, but at first we see all the aliens as typical Spielbergian Greys, thin limbs and such, waving their hands. Then the helicopers start shooting, and the aliens seem to quickly morph into things that look like giant versions of the worms, only with legs. They run into their (organic looking) ship, plug themselves into it (using their egg-layers) and activate the self-destruct. The blast takes out two of the helicopters, but I'm still not all that convinced of the efficiency of self-destruct as either a means of offense or defense.
Back to the Best Pals, and Nondescript Guy and Beared Grey Guy are racing on the ski-doo, and Nondescript starts blabbing about how the retarded boy was sent her to warn humanity, and probably warn them about just this very thing. Bond Villain takes over and says, “Oh yes, tell me all about this, then!” Nondescript guy refuses “Bite me”), so Bond Villain morphs into a giant worm and bites Nondescript guy in half (“Very well!”). In the “cabin,” Real Bearded Guy shouts “No!” and such, and I'm thinking we're pretty much out of Best Friends. Justin is dead, Nondescript guy I'm betting is pretty damn dead, Bearded Guy is kind of half-there but not in control, and Thomas Jane is out somewhere wandering around.
Bearded Grey flags down a truck. He kills the driver, feeds the driver's dog infected meat from forest animals killed by the soldiers (which the driver was hauling somewhere. All by himself, no guard or anything. Okay) and then Beared Guy in His Own Mind is like, going through his Mental Records (the boxes) to find...something. He's looking up boxes of memories, I guess, and the music is telling us this is suspenseful. The alien (who is also represented in his mind as a kind of dark, swift shape) is chasing him and all.
And we cut to a skier. He
falls down, the military show up in clean suits, and the skier is
Thomas Jane, and he gets to the army, and they throw him into the
prison camp for infected people. See, when people encounter the
worm-eggs, they get “infected” which shows up as sores on
the face and such.
Morgan takes Tom on a tour of the infected people all herded together. Again, it doesn't look good for Morgan. But Thomas Jane seems to be reading Morgan's mind. And Morgan wants to kill all the infected. Tom argues that half of them will get better (I'd like to point out that this is the ver first time we've heard this bit of information, and we've seen no evidence of it). Oh, Morgan, sounds bad for you. But he says he hates the whole idea of killing the infected. He'll do it because it needs to be done. Morgan has weird hair, too. Not that that should count against him, no. He's just a military guy who has a military solution. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Remember when you first heard that, and thought, that's harsh but that's right. Well, as Lou Reed once sang, those were different times. Anyway, Morgan says his big fear is a “hitchhiker”which is just what Bearded Grey is now, except, well, technically he killed the driver so he's driving himself and all. Not a hitchhiker. Unless we mean, like, Bearded Grey is actually a hitchhiker in Bearded Guy's mind! Okay, that's probably it. But we can tell Tom isn't down with this “Let's kill everyone” bit.
The unfortunate thing is, we're dealing with an unknown invading force, and you can't meet it with milk and cookies. You have to be ruthless, especially about something that could infect entire areas, and thus become even more difficult to control or contain. I'm saying Morgan is right, he's the guy you need to handle this stuff, and he has already shown he has the will and the ability to do so. But...sigh. You know how film-makers are. “This can't have a military solution! The military is evil and bad, and only good things, like friendship, and a liberal arts education, can solve our problems! There's no black and white, only varying shades of gray! And who are we to decide these aliens are bad? We need to form a committee!” You know the tiresome dril..
So...back to the film. Tom and Thomas meet by the electrical fence. Thomas knows all about Tom's personal life, being telepathic and all, and tells Tom that Morgan is insane. And apparently Tom has a transmitter to talk to a “General Matheson.” Always nice to see Richard get a bit of name-fame, of course. Nice if he could work as a screenwriter more often, but you get what you can, I suppose. No one has to pay if you name a character Matheson, after all. A-hem.
Thomas spills the beans about everything. Bearded Grey is out there. But later, Tom tells Morgan about Thomas, and you know what Morgan is gonna do. Yeah, he's out there with a rifle. But Tom shows up with a truck and hauls Thomas out of there. “You almost ran me down!” “I figured you'd read my mind and get out of the way!” And more military show up, and it sure looks like Morgan is totally screwed. Sorry I was right about you, Morgan, but you'll get more work I feel certain. The thing is, Morgan Freeman is a great actor, with a wonderful commanding presence. I'm sure if he was given a role where he was going to kill a bunch of orphans, with the right material, we'd all cheer him on. But for his character here, in Dreamcatcher, his material is all too predictable.
Anyway, Tom and Thomas are out on the road, looking for Bearded Grey. Bearded Grey, meanwhile, is looking pleased at Dead Driver's dog, who is whining and pulsating meaningfully, if you get my drift. But then his truck has a blowout! And Thomas says, honestly, “Come on, Jonesy, dial 1-800 Henry.” (Henry, I think, is Thomas Jane's character name) and Bearded Guy, in his Mind Library, picks up the phone and starts dialing! And Thomas answers the call on Tom's gun! Pardon me while I editorialize, but this looks really, really dumb on screen. So, Bearded Guy says they're going to Massachusetts, and Tom says let's go! but Thomas insists they go get the retarded boy. And it seems that Bearded Guy is immune to being totally taken over by Bearded Grey because...he died. Yes, in the opening bit of the film, he was hit by a car, and pronounced dead for several minutes, but he was revived by the doctors. You might remember me mentioning this in passing earlier, which is lucky, because I honestly didn't think it would be relevant. I was wrong.
And Tom and Thomas go get the retarded guy, who's now an adult of course and apparently has leukemia. He's dying, but he's gonna go with Tom and Thomas, because everyone seems to know he's going to save everyone.
Morgan is still around, and still has fingers in various pies. And General Matheson shows up, and his name is...Herman. So, no-no, not R------ Matheson. So much for props.
Back to Bearded Grey. He's looking for another ride, and he gets a cop car, and kills the trooper but is irritated by the lights. We still hear the dog whining, so right now I'm thinking the dog's fate will be a shock cut at the end of the film. Thomas and retarded guy (named Duddy) are trying (mentally) to find Bearded Grey, they know he's in a police car now. Bearded Grey wants to get the bad worms into the Boston water supply! So, they're going there. And Duddy makes contact with Bearded Grey and makes him crash the cop car. Well, not exactly crash, but pull over severly. And in this weather (there's a lot of snow and ice everywhere)....well, for the real world that would be good enough. But this is a movie, and I imagine Bearded Grey won't have trouble getting on his way again. (He still has the dog, too.) And nope, he gets back on the road fine.
Back to Morgan, he's stealing a helicopter. (He had a homing device in Tom's gun.) Some troops try to stop him, and to his credit he doesn't shoot them. Bearded Grey gets to the reservoir with the infected dog. So do Tom and Thomas and Duddy.
Tom goes to take care of the situ, while Bearded Grey tries to pry off a manhole cover. Man, this is at the 1 hr, 57 minute mark, and the video box says 134 minutes. So, if I add that up...oh crap. Seventeen minutes to go? What happened to being concise! Seventeen minutes! Of what? Well, Morgan shows up with his helicopter and tries to kill Tom and doesn't. And Tom kills him. But it seems Tom got killed anyway. Well, that was enlightening. I guess. Ate up some time, anyway. So Thomas gets Tom's gun and is going in to take care of Bearded Grey. Who, by the way, is still struggling with the manhole cover.
But the worm hatches, and...but Thomas blows it away (with Tom's gun)! And there's some, Are you Bearded Guy or Bearded Grey, guess I'll have to kill you to be sure. But one egg rolls out of the dead worm, where no one sees it! And Duddy shows up, and Bearded Grey turns out to be Bearded Grey after all. Well, Bearded Guy kind of leaks Regular Alien Grey, who skewers Duddy with his tail. Thomas tried Tom's gun, but it doesn't work of course. And Duddy morphs into another type of alien (earth-tone brown) and doesn't seem to be bothered by being skewered. In fact, Duddy grows his own tail, which skewers Grey, and they kind of morph together, so that they're covered with a vein-y material, like a bag, which explodes. The lone worm (from that earlier mentioned hidden egg) almost gets into the water supply, but Bearded Guy steps on it, and Thomas Jane says “Jonesy!” like he's (Jonesy's) back. And roll credits. Turns out adult Duddits was played by Donnie Wahlberg, who, if memory serves, also played the disturbed guy in the beginning of The Sixth Sense. Type casting? Um, cough, choke, ahem.
So, we still have two Best Friends left at the end, which is more than I thought would remain. And no, no alien menace remained to promise a sequel. I was sure wrong about that, I'm sorry ma'am.
what's the bottom line with this here film? Do I need to rehash my
objections (toothpick, mistreating Morgan)? Can I just tell you it
was pretty good? Almost to the very good part? That, despite all the
bad reviews of this film, I was thinking, “You know, this is
pretty good”? I mean, I always think that about every film
anyway up until the film knifes me, so nothing new there. It's just
usually a lot sooner than 50 minutes.
In the end, I guess I would recommend Dreamcatcher. Aside from the sore-thumb stupidities (the toothpick, the gun-phone) and the Hollywoodisms (“the military can never, ever do anything good, and must be punished”—makes me wonder how poor Hollywood's grasp of history is. Obviously, pretty poor, while its hold on political correctness is quite a death-grip) it provided a lot of suspense, some good special effects, some tense scenes and some decent acting. Morgan Freeman being the towering example here. Had not the film turned its machinations against him, he would have been the voice to follow (see: Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast). It may have been, in fact, that casting Morgan Freeman was a mistake for the film. Maybe someone more oily and untrustworthy would have been better, as we would have expected him to be wrong from the start. (Morgan is pretty much right throughout the film, and the attempts to make him wrong smack of desperation.)
But the stupidities and Hollywoodisms never made me want to turn the film off. I was pretty much captured from the start. So, yes, I recommend this film. You'll have a good time. Just watch out for the worms, in all their forms, and remember that grey is the color of hidden things....