One of the gorier, more vulgar film adaptations of a Stephen King novel, Dreamcatcher is a convoluted horror/sci-fi potboiler. At the center of the story are four men who, as boys in rural Maine, rescued a frail savant from bullies. They were "rewarded" with extrasensory powers that have since become more of a curse than a blessing (a King cliché). That common bond has led the men to reunite each winter at a remote cabin where they do some hunting and share recollections of Duddits, the boy who changed their lives. But for some in the group, this year’s case of cabin fever will be fatal.
The friends include Henry, a suicidal psychiatrist who can read minds. Henry is plagued by a compulsion to reveal more to his patients about what’s really on their minds than they want to hear. Pete can find lost things—a trick he uses to impress women, though it always ends up creeping them out. Beaver has vague precognitive abilities. And Jonesy is forced to maintain a massive "memory warehouse," a towering mental storage facility packed with boxes of files representing everything from sports humiliations to song lyrics. He must selectively incinerate old memories to make room for new ones. Wait, it gets weirder.
Braving blizzard-like conditions, the pals have their annual retreat interrupted when an alien virus invades the forest. It preys on animals and people. Those infected become hosts for parasitic worms that grow to about four feet in length and burst forth from the victim’s rectum. Very messy. Then these creatures—the heads of which look like Venus flytraps sporting rows and rows of teeth—crawl around searching for warm-blooded prey before laying nests of eggs. Why do some worms need human hosts while others hatch like reptiles? Who knows? It’s not important.
The worms are part of an enormous invasion from outer space masterminded by an alien known as Mr. Gray, who possesses Jonesy, adopting a British accent so we can tell who’s who during his Gollum-style dialogues with the owner of the body he’s borrowing. Mr. Gray’s goal is to reach a primary New England aqueduct and contaminate the drinking water with the alien virus. Meanwhile, a crack military outfit led by a burnt-out, genocidal colonel is trying to contain the outbreak and destroy the alien presence without the rest of civilization getting wise. Once the whole thing has spiraled into complete absurdity, Henry tracks down an ailing Duddits, who fulfills his destiny and saves the world. Got all that? Don’t feel bad. Half the people walking out of the theater were shaking their heads, too.
positive elements: Noble behavior is applauded. As boys, Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beaver stick up for a boy they don’t know when they see him being picked on by older teens. They stand up to the attackers and proceed to show their new friend, Duddits, sensitivity and compassion. Soon after, all five adolescents embark on a quest to find a missing girl, reinforcing the message that a truly heroic adventure involves helping others. As adults, Beaver and Jonesy offer kindness and hospitality to a man lost in the snow. When Henry and Pete encounter a half-frozen woman in the woods, Pete stays with her as Henry goes for help. And when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, it’s another selfless act that makes the difference. A military man says, "Sometimes we have to kill, but our real job is to save lives."
spiritual content: There are several references to Indian spiritism, most notably superstition related to the dreamcatcher myth. Rather than killing Jonesy, Mr. Gray dissolves into a rusty mist and possesses his body (scenes occasionally end with the camera pulling back from the action and through a pane of glass where we see the "real" Jonesy watching what we’ve just witnessed from the window of his mind). While not attached to a theological framework, the friends’ supernatural powers are imparted to them by someone who isn’t exactly human, and certainly not God.
sexual content: No sexual activity, but crass dialogue is a real problem. Extended conversations surround Viagra-induced erections and a group of young boys eager to see a photo of a classmate’s vagina. The guys use slang for anatomy, oral sex, masturbation and intercourse. There’s also an obscene gesture. One of the boxes in Jonesy’s memory warehouse is labeled "porn."
violent content: Blood. Guts. Gore. The first time a voracious parasite shows up, it’s after having exiting a man’s bowels in a bathroom. Extremely graphic. It attacks Beaver, biting off his fingers before finishing him off. Jonesy steps into traffic and gets nailed by a passing car. Col. Curtis disciplines a compassionate young soldier by firing a bullet through his hand. A worm jumps Pete, severely wounding him. Later, Mr. Gray bites Pete in half. A trucker meets a similar fate. A policeman gets decapitated and tossed in the snow. Henry blasts worms with a shotgun and stomps tiny hatchlings with his boot. He sets a worm nest on fire, a blaze that engulfs the cabin. Viewers see alien and human corpses. An infected dog dies. Choppers are destroyed by aliens, and one gets shot down by a rogue soldier who himself dies from machine-gun fire. Henry puts a revolver to his head, but is interrupted before he can kill himself. Mr. Gray uses an enormous claw to impale a man through the chest before both perish. Helicopters strafe fleeing aliens with bullets, killing some. The violence is continuous and, at times, brutal.
crude or profane language: Frequent profanity includes 25 f-words, 20 s-words and a dozen exclamatory abuses of God’s name. There’s also sexual and anatomical slang. A recurring expression used by the men is abbreviated SSDD ("same s---, different day").
drug and alcohol content: The men drink beer and toast their absent friend, Duddits. Beaver downs a shot in a bar. Pete, who has a drinking problem, gets trashed after polishing off a six-pack of beer. Col. Curtis pours himself a drink.
other negative elements: Prior to having their innards erupt, people carrying the worm-beasts belch a lot and experience explosive flatulence. Pete relieves himself in the snow.
conclusion: Imagine the makers of The X-Files putting several discarded plot ideas into a paper shredder. One is about psychic phenomenon. Another deals with flesh-eating monsters. Toss in an alien invasion episode brimming with government cover-up. And finally, the X-Files scribes shred a body-snatcher story that didn’t pass muster because it seemed too similar to Alien or The Thing. Then, late that night, the creative team behind Dreamcatcher sneaks into their office and—in the dark—pieces together the shredded pages into a single script. That’s pretty much what you have here. But the film isn’t just ridiculously overstuffed and incoherent. It’s disgusting. Obscenities and sexual dialogue notwithstanding, it’s swimming in blood and gore. "The sequence in the bathroom," says writer/director/producer Lawrence Kasdan, "is out there on the edges of what you can stand to look at." Make that over the edge. Excuse me while I attempt to purge my memory warehouse of the file marked Dreamcatcher.
bonus featurette: A nine-minute, computer-generated short film called Final Flight of the Osiris (one of nine original shorts that make up The Animatrix, a collection conceived by the creators of The Matrix) appears at the start of Dreamcatcher. It opens with a man and woman on a holodeck engaged in a sensual sword fight. Blindfolded, they jump and flip acrobatically as they slice the clothes off each other one piece at a time (she ends up in a thong). Their combative foreplay is interrupted by creatures attacking the ship’s hull. While her comrades fight off the violent, spider-like intruders, the girl enters the matrix in a desperate attempt to warn Zion of impending disaster. She accomplishes her mission just as the ship—and everyone on it—is destroyed. Expect intense space battles, mild sexualized violence and several profanities.