Dreamkatcher is a formulaic but entertaining supernatural thriller with folk horror roots.
Take a familiar trope, in this case, Native American dreamcatchers, and make a minor change. That change is a letter, which is all the difference needed to turn something for protection into something evil. The opening moments introduce the idea that dreamcatchers with a C, block nightmares while letting pleasant dreams through. This is the totem known by most. The Lakota believe dreamcatchers foretell futures. If you believe in the Great Spirit and listen, you can know your fate. The Sioux believe dreamcatchers can protect you in sleep and hang them above their beds.
Dreamkatchers, with a K, evidently do the opposite. They open you up to evil. This is an entirely fictionalized distinction, but none the less it is a convenient use of curiosity. Many Western religions do have misgivings about the talismans. They believe they could be encouraging evil rather than repel it. If the dreamcatcher ensnares terrible dreams, does it ever get full? If it lets the bad out through the hole in the middle, where do they go? Director Kerry Harris seeks to answer that question with a creepy kid, stunt casting, a visually arresting setting, and lots of jump scares.
If you are going to make a horror movie, there are evidently a few requirements. You must have Lin Shaye(Insidious), and Rhada Mitchell(Silent Hill) is an excellent added bonus. If you can toss in some additional stunt casting like Henry Thomas(E.T. and Haunting of Hill House), you have the recipe for a decent movie. Now sprinkle a dash of ghost Mom and a pinch of kids with hatchets, and you have all the ingredients needed to cook up more than a few scares.
Tonally Dreamkatchers has a lot in common with “bad seed” type movies like Orphan, and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Parents are struggling to believe their child may be a monster. Dreamkatcher just introduces fairly early on, Josh is not a monster and something is stalking him. Josh, played by a cherubic Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, is struggling with his Mom’s death. To make matters worse, his clueless and absentee father has left him with his new wife in the middle of nowhere. The pair is uneasy and isolated. To be fair, Gail tries to help him come to terms with his grief. She also breaks more than a few horror movie rules by demanding to leave the cabin. Unfortunately, none of it is successful.
Something happened to Josh’s Mom. She drowned before the events of the movie. Enter stage right Mitchell’s Gail, who in typical horror movie fashion is a child psychologist and new stepmom trying to connect with vulnerable Josh. He is angry, confused, sad, and despite her best efforts, haunted. When he begins to see his dead mother in his dreams, the boy seeks out the advice of locale eccentric Ruth(Shaye). While visiting her backwoods store of oddities, he steals a dreamkatcher, not to be confused with dreamcatcher. This disastrous decision leads to even more bad dreams and jump scares. So many jump scares.
That’s not an indictment of the film. When done well, they enhance a movie. Dreamkatcher does more than a few of them well in large part thanks to Wojtak-Hissong’s kaleidoscope of emotional behaviors, Mitchell’s rising panic, and great musical direction by Joseph Bishara who also lends his acting talents to the Night Hag.
By the time the Big Bad is revealed, you aren’t’ numb to the appearance of the hag so much as shocked by it. Excellent physical acting by Bishara brings just the right amount of fluidity to the slinky hag. She slithers and oozes right into Josh’s head. The jump scares give a false sense of security that will be all that you have to fear. Excellent makeup by Merry Cammack brings decay to life while cinematography by George Wieser uses a cabin with a wall full of haphazard and odd windows effectively. If windows are the eyes of the house, this house is full of chaos and incongruous parts.
This is a family in peril. Despite initially appearing to have it all together, there are signs Gail isn’t as sane as first presented. For one thing, she goes on a day drink bender during Josh’s nap time. Having a little nip in the middle of the afternoon wouldn’t be the worst thing if Josh hadn’t run off earlier in the day. He is struggling and can’t be trusted to stay put. Whatever is affecting Josh is also affecting her. Luke(Thomas) is malignantly clueless. He galavants off, leaving his new wife and troubled child to deal on their own with the flimsiest of excuses. Worse yet later, he seems to put his child in danger rather than protect him.
He refuses to see the signs Gail is pointing out. He chalks all the weird behavior up to sleepwalking. Luke says he also suffered as a child. More likely, Josh has Night Terrors. This condition can be horrifying for everyone involved. Those that have them are locked in a nightmare more intense than the worse bad dreams. Most who suffer also tend to sleepwalk or have other sleep activities not typical with different dreams. Usually, dream paralysis prevents us from hurting ourselves during sleep, in Night Terrors, that is not true, leaving the dreamer and their loved ones in danger. Since we literally see a monster, Josh is not suffering from Night Terrors, and it’s possible Luke didn’t either.
The Night Hag is not real, but the condition associated with her is. That aforementioned normal sleep paralysis is her doing. Josh deals with both sleepwalking and sleep paralysis at different times in the film. When the hag crawls on his chest, he is paralyzed. That is a common complaint of sleep paralysis. The feeling that something is sitting on the sufferer’s chest, restricting their movement and breathing. Times of stress and overtiredness intensify sleep paralysis, and Josh is suffering from both.
So what happened? Josh was possessed. He may still be. Wotjak-Hissong occasional dead-eyed delivery leaves the door open for continued possession, though. Like the best killer kids, Josh is devoid of emotion. Using a hatchet as his weapon of choice was a smart callback to Thirteen Ghosts’ The First Born Son. He may not be innocent forever. How did Gail escape? Is Josh in control? He seems blissfully unaware of what happened back at the house. Has the Night Hag found a new victim? If the not so subtle picking of an apple by the trio of young kids in the after-credits scene is any indication, yes.
Whether you believe the Night Hag exists, dreamkatchers are evil, or Josh is just a sociopath this is a enjoyable supernatural film that will induce paralyzing dreams late at night. Be sure and hang your dreamcatcher. Stream Dreamkatcher on Vudu or Amazon Prime today.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.