Movie Review: Dream Scenario

One-liner: A timely concept, vivid storytelling and a strong lead compel this entertaining, intriguing and well-balanced comedy drama turned horror.

Dream Scenario is a surreal and twisty comedy drama turned horror from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli, best known for Sick of Myself. It’s not surprising to learn this darkly dreaming film is produced by Ari Aster of Hereditary and Midsommar fame, whose presence is felt in an unsettling movie that could have been his playground. In many ways, the film is its own dream scenario… casting Nicolas Cage, who wields a curious star power that plays into the see-sawing realm.

The story centres on tenured professor, Paul Matthews, whose drive for academic significance in the field of evolutionary biology finds him frustrated and listless in his academic and home life. Things begin to spiral out of control when he starts to appear in other people’s dreams. Matthews becomes an overnight celebrity, at first a non-threatening presence, his prolific and rampant “dream-crashing” becomes a global phenomenon. However, his uncontrollable dream state self becomes more volatile with time turning his instant celebrity into something much more sinister as a witch hunt begins to brew.

Nicolas Cage is a divisive actor who has proven his abilities many times over with the right kind of roles, most recently as a savant in Pig. The overriding problem is his discernment, having built a hit-and-miss reputation with his film choices. When you live between gigs, you can’t be as picky but these choices have repercussions for reputation and exposure as an actor. Luckily for Cage’s unique talents and cult appeal, he’s almost immune to critics. Dedicated to having fun and getting consistent work irrespective of his reputation in all its shades, he’s perfectly poised to play the paradoxical Paul Matthews. Well-known and distinctive enough to be a face you could imagine appearing in your dreams, he’s also famous enough to hang on the precipice of infamy.

Leaning into his age for this quirky one-foot-on-the-ground performance, the character has a similar spin to his turn as Gary Faulkner in Army of One. In spite of his relative immunity, he delivers a solid performance, probably elevated by his producer credit, having turned the corner when it comes to serving as an actor and producer after The Unbearable Weight fo Massive Talent. He’s supported by Julianne Nicholson, who helps carry the emotional undercurrent, headining an otherwise unknown cast besides a surprise appearance from fellow dark horse, Michael Cera.

nicolas cage dream scenario

“I do believe I’m Freddy’s worst nightmare.”

Dream Scenario’s delicious concept is timely, speaking to the rise of cancel culture. Instead of leveraging pure celebrity, the film uses this fantasy element to widen the lens of social commentary without prejudice. Having no control over his predicament, Matthews rides the crest of the wave enjoying the privileges and ultimately pitfalls of fame. In a riff on “be careful what you wish for”, Dream Scenario draws viewers into Paul’s upside down world. A semi-vicarious experience, where one’s close enough to care for Paul, Borgli trades with a ramshackle empathy. The schadenfreude is never far away but having the inside angle, one bears witness to the injustice as what starts like a game crystallises into something truly life-altering.

Well-acted with Cage in charge and tapping into a curious conceptual headspace, the film remains compelling and engaging, trading in a Being John Malkovich quirk. Borgli keeps a lid on this potboiler as beautifully crafted visuals and editing allow for a seamless transition between waking and dream states. Toying with waking states, Dream Scenario uses this element to venture into other people’s dreams. At first absurdly funny, Borgli cranks up the intensity and suspense as Paul’s life falls apart at the mercy of public sentiment.

This is an entertaining, intriguing and thought-provoking journey with razorsharp relevance for today’s fickle society and “here today, gone tomorrow” appetite. While the third act ventures into what could have been its own film concept, Borgli does enough to navigate Dream Scenario home to a bittersweet yet thoughtful resolution. Artful enough to hold one’s gaze and entertaining enough to compel through a gauntlet of emotion, this surreal comedy drama turned horror is finely crafted and well-balanced.

The bottom line: Captivating