Dream Scenario Movie Review
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A24 isn’t known for its conventional stories, and writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario (2023) is no different.
Tenured Professor Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is your basic invisible milquetoast in every aspect of his life, from his family and his job, to his social circle. He’s a stereotypical academic, complete with the balding pate and mousey self-righteousness. He’s a man people are surprised are still in the room when they were sure everyone had left. Then he begins showing up in dreams all over the world. At first, he’s an unobtrusive observer, passively watching nightmares or other strange somnolent adventures or simply passing through. It makes him an overnight sensation as people wonder how he’s able to do it (he doesn’t know) or why he’s doing it (he doesn’t know that either).
As he begins to capitalize on his instant viral success, and he begins to reach for some of the things he believes he deserves, and the manner in which he deserves them, the dreams turn dark and become more violent. Paul is trapped between the fickle tides of fortune and infamy, at the whim of instant success and disintegrating public opinion.
Dream Scenario is not a comfortable film to watch, but it’s Nicolas Cage so it’s exactly what’s expected. Part social commentary on instant fame and fast celebrities, Dream Scenario is a wild ride of The Floor is Lava, where the floor is everyday life and the lava is an incessant 24-hour news cycle supplemented by quick-hit socials like Reels and TikTok.
Kristoffer Borgli takes the normal manic scene-chewing of Nicolas Cage and distills it to it most normal, which is to say weirdly calm and unsettling. Paul is an awkward man who wants to be noticed until he doesn’t, thrust into a world of zero attention spans and possible branding deals. Cage plays him straight, a man who has a pretty good idea of how he wants to be remembered for his mind, while socially projecting all of the excitement of cold dry toast. It is that unassuming persona that allows the movie to shift between genres – dry satire to thriller to horror. When Dream Paul goes from waving amiably along the side of the road to lurking in the corners of people’s dreams before chasing them down with a maniacal smile, it’s a chilling shock.
Dream Scenario isn’t about to offer any clues as to why or how, because Borgli isn’t interested in explanations. Life just is, whether it’s just funny or just terrifying. Unfortunately, this lends to a rather lackluster third act where the momentum can’t be sustained, and the genre settles finally to sci-fi lite. Borgli is a short film director, so this feature-length treatise on the oversaturation of modern celebrity starts much stronger than it ends. Its strength lies in the unconventional storytelling and the whiplash tastes of collective appetites.
Dream Scenario isn’t a movie everyone will enjoy, but those that make the leap from chair cushion to end table may find a strangely satisfying movie worth discussing.
Dream Scenario (2023) is rated R for swears, dreamlike terrors, mild sexytime overtures, and feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and bewilderment.