“Dreamland,” Bruce McDonald’s eleventh film now on VOD, is a chaotic vision that mixes and matches contract killers, doppelgängers, human trafficking and a vampire wedding in a surreal stew of midnight madness ingredients.
The film’s strange tone is established early, with Stephen McHattie cast in two roles, Johnny Deadeyes, a hitman with a heart of gold and The Maestro, an amoral, junkie jazz trumpet player. The action begins when Johnny’s boss, gangster Hercules (Henry Rollins), upset by a personal slight, orders him to cut one of Maestro’s fingers off before a gig at a wedding thrown by crime doyenne The Countess (Juliette Lewis) and her vampire sibling The Count (Tómas Lemarquis). It seems The Count is to wed the daughter of one of Johnny’s neighbors, a young girl supplied courtesy of Hercules’ human trafficking business. The situation gives Johnny pause, and one attempted double-cross later, (MILD SPOILER AHEAD) the wedding erupts into the kind of violence that would give “Games of Thrones’” Red Wedding a run for its bloody money.
As the title would suggest “Dreamland” operates on its own indefinable wavelength. It is wonderfully weird, a movie that exists in some sort of twilight zone where logic doesn’t matter. McDonald, no stranger to genre flicks, embraces the weirdness, creating a world where the mundane and the absurd go hand in hand. Keeping it from spinning out of control is McHattie who grounds his two world-weary characters with primal thoughts regarding their mortality. They fall on either side of the will-to-survive divide, but that little bit of humanity plays nicely against the loud-n-proud performances from Lewis and Rollins. Both are fun and energetic and both feel like they stepped out of a comic book compared to McHattie’s work, which, while still outrageous, feels more anchored to reality.
It makes sense that one of “Dreamland’s” lead characters is a jazz trumpet player because McDonald has made a Bebop movie, a deconstructed genre flick with a fast tempo and unexpected story angles with only occasional references to the expected genre tropes. This quote from cornetist, pianist, and composer Bix Beiderbecke about the music he loved could also apply to “Dreamland.” “One thing I like about jazz, kid,” he said, “is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?” One thing is for sure about “Dreamland.” You won’t know what comes next.