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Dreamland Review: A Satisfying Mix of Neo-Noir Horror and Jazz Age Cool

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Written by Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler

Starring Stephen McHattie, Henry Rollins, Juliette Lewis, Tómas Lemarquis

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In a recent interview with Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), he described his new film Dreamland as a “Eurotrash jazz Western.” That’s pretty accurate, but its roots are firmly planted in a more seductive, Raymond Chandler inspired noir world, where mystery can turn into madness and madness can lead to ruin or salvation. Tucked away inside a mythical city, it’s the strange characters inhabiting Dreamland that make it memorable; and even though they may live inside a fleeting dream, the stakes are definitely real.

Putting things in motion, a maniacal mob boss named Hercules (Henry Rollins) enlists his hitman for hire, Johnny (Stephen McHattie), to slice off the finger of a trumpet player who disrespected him. Hired by a mysterious Countess (Juliette Lewis) to play an upscale jazz gig at a bizarre wedding between a vampire (Tómas Lemarquis) and his child bride, the anonymous trumpet player tries to survive the night without losing his fingers or the rest of his heroin.

In a fantastic dual performance, McHattie actually plays both the hitman and the jazz musician, turning in a notable, technical display of the craft while also providing both characters with the right balance of menace and pathos. As the hophead horn player, McHattie acts like he’s floating in a dream with an air of invincibility, as if the danger he’s in won’t materialize as long as he remains blissfully unaware. As the weathered hitman, he’s desperately trying to navigate the Underworld and still maintain some sort of moral compass. By perfectly capturing the spirit of Chet Baker, his performance as the trumpet player is more compelling, but it’s Johnny the hitman that does most of the heavy lifting in the story and all of the saving. As the story unfolds, it will be a minor miracle if either of them survive.

Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis also chew up the scenery and From Dusk Till Dawn fans will be thrilled to see Lewis reunite with a vampire at one of the weirdest weddings in recent movie history. She’s clearly having a lot of fun as a corrupt Countess planning a party with a guest list that includes international dignitaries with a penchant for young girls, members of Al-Qaeda, and Dreamland’s mob elite. Rollins’ mob boss Hercules is at the top of the heap and he acts like it. He is unhinged, irreverent and even funny in parts. When he is finally tested and immediately dominated by the vampire in one scene in particular, he seems more weirded out than afraid. When it’s their time to shine, both actors treat the film set like a concert stage and it’s easy to see why they’ve both been in the spotlight as lead singers for Black Flag and Juliette and the Licks. Tómas Lemarquis as the vampire is also perfectly cast here and it was actually the actor’s childhood dream to play a creature of the night.

After teaming up for Pontypool, McDonald and writer Tony Burgess have combined so many different genre elements that it really shouldn’t work on paper. Burgess always intended to populate the world of Dreamland with every sordid character he could imagine and they all exist together in an imaginary city where everyone has a secret. McDonald finds a way to keep all these pieces on the table to deliver a film that, just like the best jazz songs, has to go off the rails a little before it finds the melody.

Dreamland is available On Demand and Digital June 5. If possible, it will be released in some theaters as well so check your closest Drive-In.

  • Dreamland


Mobsters and junkies and vampires, oh my. Just like the best jazz songs, Dreamland has to go off the rails a little before it finds the melody.

Written by Drew Tinnin

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