10 Jan 2024

Review: Dream Scenario

From Widescreen, 12:57 pm on 10 January 2024

Nicolas Cage is at his watchable best in this satirical take on influencer culture, says Dan Slevin.

Still from the 2023 black comedy film Dream Scenario featuring Nicolas Cage.

Photo: A24

I’ve always admired Nicolas Cage’s work ethic, even if I’m occasionally baffled by some of his choices. At the age of 60 he’s working as hard as he ever has, amassing five feature film credits in 2023 alone.

One outcome of being so prolific is that he often ends up championing young filmmakers with cool ideas – what movie stars are supposed to do, but don’t always.

The cool idea at the heart of Dream Scenario – Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli’s first English language feature – is that an unremarkable middle-aged man finds himself with an extraordinary ability, that is he starts appearing in other people’s dreams. He doesn’t actually do anything in those dreams – he’s as passive in them as he is in his real life – but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility and this represents some kind of power.

Cage is in self-effacing mode (see his other recent defining role in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig) as college professor Paul Matthews, an expert in biology especially ant colonies, who slowly starts to find some appeal in the notoriety and then fame that this unwitting superpower gives him.

Still from the 2023 black comedy film Dream Scenario featuring Nicolas Cage and Julianne Nicholson.

Photo: A24

The whole world starts to see Paul in their dreams – they recognise him in the street and masquerade as him at Halloween – but people appear to be more interested in the novelty of the situation than working out what’s actually happening.

When Paul lets the fame go to his head and starts to believe that all this recognition should be matched by appreciation for his scientific achievements, ego takes over and his role in the dreams of others starts to take on a more frightening pitch.

On one level, Dream Scenario is an opportunity to create some outlandish and amusing visuals featuring Cage’s incredulous everyman in increasingly surreal scenarios, but as the darker side of Paul’s personality take over – the envious side, the humiliated side – we realise that subconsciously he is controlling this situation. Has he, in fact, discovered a superpower. Or is it something even more profound?

Still from the 2023 black comedy film Dream Scenario featuring Nicolas Cage.

Photo: A24

The film is shot in a grainy, indie style – the dreams are often indistinguishable from reality until an alligator or something turns up – and the performances are played straight despite the fantastical nature of the premise. It’s grounded and floating away from you at the same time.

Dream Scenario took a bit of decoding on the ride home – one of the benefits of watching a film in the cinema that we don’t talk about often enough – and I have to say that the more we thought about it, the better we liked it, which is definitely not always the case.

Dream Scenario is rated R13 for bloody violence, offensive language, sexual material & content that may disturb and is playing in select cinemas all over New Zealand.

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