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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Dream Cleaners (2011)

Director: Craig Phillips
Stars: Larrs Jackson, Dave Shalansky and Devan Leos
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
I found Dream Cleaners to be a really frustrating picture. One one front, it's executed superbly, with great acting from everyone involved, gorgeous effects and fun gimmickry. Yet, on another front, it immediately raised a whole bunch of questions and steadfastly refused to answer any of them. There is an ending that offers an explanation to a question actually posed within the film, but that wasn't one of the questions I was asking. So I sat back and enjoyed the visual aesthetics and the work of the folk we see on screen, while screaming internally at the writer for setting up something that made so little sense. Perhaps Craig Phillips, who wrote and directed, was working entirely in dream logic, which after all is no logic at all. Anything goes, right? In a dream, you can ask a question and a get a fish in reply and it'll make perfect sense until you wake up and try to figure out what the heck you'd eaten the night before to bring all that on to begin with.

We come in as a pair of professional dream cleaners finish off their lunch and prepare to get on with cleaning the dreams of a boy named Fudge, who they've been monitoring for a month. Artie is the experienced one of the pair, brought to life by the suitably grizzled form of Larrs Jackson, who does a great job with the jargon and the 'been there, done that, seen it all' attitude. Rex is the new guy, full of pep and confidence but who naturally screws up. Here, screwing up means a glorious opportunity for the effects guys to take over and paint digital effects over this suburban neighbourhood as they escape from Fudge's dream. They look like state of the art graphics and they're as fun to watch as the delightfully analogue gadgetry in the back of Artie and Rex's van, some of which looks animated too. Visually, this is a treat, courtesy of a team of visual artists, at least one of whom is extremely experienced. If it wasn't for the actors, it would feel like Pixar.
Well, not entirely, because while Pixar are pushing the boundaries of computer-based animation, they're fundamentally about telling stories and, as slick as Dream Cleaners seems to be on that front, the story is the weakest link. I've watched this a few times and I still have no conception of what dream cleaners do, why they might be required and who employs them. How can I accept a film without accepting its basic rationale for existing? I can't even figure out what these guys did in Fudge's dreams. There's no internal consistency here at all. They monitored for a month but Rex is brand new. Artie needs Rex but he can take care of business himself, without breaking a sweat, even if Rex screws up. The afternoon shift is, what, about three minutes long? How do I get that job? I understand the ending, honestly, but there just has to be more substance here. We can't merely apply dream logic to everything and expect that to suffice. At least I can't.

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