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'In Dreams': Night fright

Apples are a wholesome symbol of the New England countryside, but Neil Jordan's thriller "In Dreams" gives them a sinister twist. The heroine, aptly named Claire, is an apparently normal woman plagued by clairvoyant nightmares that prominently feature the color red: an apple orchard, lipstick, a little girl named Ruby. Her life turns nightmarish when her young daughter is killed by an elusive madman. It gets worse when she realizes that the murderer is paying her mysterious visits by penetrating her sleeping and waking thoughts. Jordan has directed movies as varied as "The Crying Game" and "Michael Collins," but his interest in horror recurs as often as one of Claire's bad dreams - from "The Company of Wolves" to "Interview With the Vampire" - and he isn't afraid of explicit violence, as "The Butcher Boy" reminded us. "In Dreams" delivers a hefty amount of gore, although most of it springs from the screen so abruptly that it's over almost as soon it's begun. The picture is also strong on moods and maneuvers borrowed from better chillers, from "The Shining" and "Don't Look Now" to the notorious "Blue Velvet," which put Roy Orbison's pop song "In Dreams" to purposes even creepier than the ones Jordan dishes up here. The movie's sanguinary suspense should keep horror fans happily howling; others may watch portions through their fingers. If so, they'll miss an enormously creative performance by Annette Bening as the tormented heroine, and solid work by Robert Downey Jr. as her evil nemesis. The screenplay contains pointed references to psychiatric experts who think they know more than their patients. These raise more thought-provoking questions about the modern medical establishment than the self-congratulatory "Patch Adams," now in theaters, manages to do in its entire running time. Rated R; contains vulgar language and graphic violence.

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