Dream Scenario seems like a meme when you hear about its premise.
The premise is that for some unexplained reason, people are dreaming of Nic Cage. He’s playing a chubby college professor who has no idea why people are dreaming about him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s just there. What is he doing in those dreams? Absolutely nothing. He’s just… there. If that isn’t the premise of a horror movie parody then I don’t know what is.
The funny thing about Dream Scenario is that at times, it is almost like a horror movie. Not a traditional horror movie mind you, but there are unsettling ideas present in it. What happens when a person is thrust into fame? How does that change a person? Is there a meaningful difference between fame and notoriety? Dream Scenario markets itself as a dark comedy, with an emphasis on dark and uncomfortable humor. I can safely say that the film defied my expectations, but I’m not sure if it was for better or worse.
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Release Date: November 10, 2023 (Limited Theatrical), November 22, 2023 (Wide)
At first, Dream Scenario comes across as exactly how you expect it to. We follow Nic Cage’s character, Paul Matthews, through his daily life and see his reaction to how people start to see him in their dreams. Almost all of these scenarios in the beginning of the film are inherently comedic, whether it’s watching Nic Cage wander a forest eating mushrooms, or how he’s kind of there when a woman is about to be eaten by alligators. At first, hearing about all of these different situations he shows up in is funny, but like how his character becomes exacerbated by hearing how he does nothing inside of people’s dreams, we too start to grow tired of how little he actually does.
For the record, that’s not a criticism of Cage or his performance. Cage is solid here, though it doesn’t quite hit the same emotional range as something like Mandy or Pig. In those films, Cage’s characters have a significant amount of emotional depth to them. You can empathize with him in those roles, but not so much in Dream Scenario. The film is more interested in getting across its message and using Cage as a surrogate for whatever satire the film wants to unload. What kind of satire you may ask? Cancel culture.
Cage becomes a sensation online and attracts all kinds of attention. At first, it’s almost always positive, with him being seen as a fad by many, something to be discussed in the moment as the hip new thing. There are some issues his family does encounter with this new popularity, like when his family is harassed by a random stranger or when a PR firm led by Michael Cera attempts to turn Matthews into a brand, but his family adapts to it pretty well. It’s once people start to have nightmares about him that everything really begins to turn south, both for his life and also for the movie.
All subtlety goes out the window as the movie goes all in on making its point that cancel culture is unreasonable and fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The characters become parodies of themselves and at times it almost becomes farcical as they begin to do actions that wouldn’t make any rational sense but need to happen for the movie to make its point. The only person who is relatively grounded in reality is Nic Cage, which is kind of the point. Still, when everything else is so extreme in its execution then his behavior just becomes tedious. By the time the film reaches the two-thirds point, you feel like you’ve seen everything that film has to offer, yet there’s another half an hour to go.
I did like the exploration of dreams presented within the film and how we never get an explanation for what’s happening to Matthews. The dreams are all random, making the film ascribe to the activation-synthesis dream theory that dreams are just random synapses being fired off from your brain that have no meaning, allowing the film to make wacky dreams simply because it can. The dreams are meaningless and can’t be controlled, making Matthews’ appearances in the dreams all the more compelling. Why are people dreaming about him? We never know, and the film is all the better for it. It’s one of those situations where I appreciate the film didn’t tell us what was going on because the situation itself is much more interesting than the answer. It also allows the chaos that his appearances provide to be all the more captivating. When he begins to actually do stuff inside of dreams, it piques my interest because the film is deciding to expand upon its premise.
But while this is ultimately Nic Cage’s show, he is let down by a somewhat weak supporting cast. Yes, you have Julianne Nicholson and Tim Meadows playing major supporting characters, but as the film progresses they become less interesting as the film does what it can to prove its point. When I first saw this film at the Montclair Film Festival, I had really positive thoughts about everything, but as time went on my opinion of it began to dampen more and more. The premise is rock solid and showcases a whole lot of potential fun but it gets so bogged down in explaining the pitfalls of fame, how the internet can ruin a person’s life, and how selfish and greedy corporations are when they interfere in art. All together this should make for a delicious feature, but instead, Dream Scenario just comes across as repetitive when it just keeps making the same point.
I think it was smart how Dream Scenario blends a variety of different genres together, showcasing goofy comedic moments, pitiable dramatic bits, and slight bursts of horror. The variety helped to keep me engaged since I didn’t really know where the movie was going on a scene-to-scene basis. It did eventually become obvious once you realize the film’s overarching metaphor and how it will inevitably play out, but in the moment it was interesting and compelling. Even looking back on it all, I can appreciate the artistry that Borgli clearly put into the film and I look forward to seeing what he does next with a much tighter screenplay.
But I just keep thinking back to how I wanted to like Dream Scenario more than I did. The individual elements are strong, like Cage’s performance, the concept, the exploration and commodification of dreams, and its approach to examining cancel culture, but the film just doesn’t know when to stop. It eventually overwhelms viewers with too many farcical elements and overpowers the emotional core that it was trying to establish.
If you were to look at the humor from the first five minutes and the last five minutes of the film, then you would have two completely different styles that don’t really mesh. It’s easy to see how you would get from Point A to Point B, but that doesn’t mean the journey should have been taken in the first place. If the film had picked a lane and stayed in it, then I think it would have been more consistently enjoyable, but it holds itself back in too many areas for me to give it a glowing recommendation.