About thirty minutes into Lawrence Kasdan’s 2003 adaptation of Stephen King’s doorstop novel Dreamcatcher, I remembered my deathly fear of leeches. Being from Ireland I have no real cause to fear leeches other than the fact that they’re bloodsucking worms with teeth. Teeth! Reader, if there are leeches then there is no God. Worse still the leech-like aliens of Dreamcatcher are born from red dust exhaled by grey aliens and inhaled by humans. The alien lampreys then grow in the human system before being violently expelled from – yes I’m going there – their host’s ass.
Of course, after two hours it turned out that the true leech was the film. It sapped me of all strength, of the will to write this article and of the desire to visit tropical rivers. It also drained my respect for most of it’s cast. Four friends Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Henry (Thomas Jane), Pete (Timothy Olyphant) and Beaver (Jason Lee) are hunting in the woods when Jonesy and Beaver (just roll with the names) find a man lost and in pain. Henry and Pete come upon a woman in a similar condition on their way back from the store. Both strangers proceed to shit out the aforementioned leeches. An army quarantine lead by Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman with unfortunate eyebrows) soon comes into effect. Beaver and Pete are killed by the leeches and Jonesy is possessed by an alien he nicknames Mr Grey because he’s grey.
Stephen King originally wrote Dreamcatcher under the influence of the painkiller Oxycontin after a near-fatal car accident. In 2014 he told Rolling Stone he disliked the book and it’s easy to see why. It’s crap. King is known for his addiction to overlong prose, regularly churning out novels often far longer than Dreamcatcher. Still he was suffering from a variety of broken bones so we can forgive him, mostly. Lawrence Kasdan not so much. His script trims a great deal of the fat from King’s novel but it still feels burdened by its strange story that never really worked in the book never mind the film.
The core conceit to both book and film is the four friends’ telepathic connection gained from a mentally challenged boy they saved in their youth named Duddits. Eventually the five friends drift apart except for a bi-annual hunting trip in Beaver’s cabin. The adult Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg) hasn’t been able to make it due to terminal leukaemia. The telepathic link is the more interesting part of the film but Kasdan pushes it to the background in favour of B-movie gore and generic creature designs.
The four friends are all introduced as successful but unsatisfied. Their telepathy has left them isolated from society. Pete finds a woman’s car keys and despite being grateful she is weirded out by his bizarre technique and stands him up after agreeing to a date. Henry is a psychiatrist who uses his telepathy to get to the heart of his patient’s problems but one day takes it too far. Beaver is an anxious mess and Jonesy is hit by a car after receiving a telepathic pulse from Duddits. The four men also have a personal memory warehouse where they can retreat in times of great strain. Something that becomes a key plot point during Jonesy’s possession.
The problem is that this plot point isn’t used nearly enough. A psychological battle of wills between Jonesy and Mr Grey would have been far more fascinating than the all too brief and dreadfully animated attack on an alien ship. Well, at least the hypothetical battle of wills would have been interesting if the performances weren’t so bad.
Morgan Freeman has been consistently phoning it in for nearly twenty years now, almost impressive if you stop to consider it. Damian Lewis gurns his way through the trite dialogue like a man trying to chew snow. The dialogue remains mostly unchanged from King’s book leaving lines that are not meant to be spoken by real people, sounding like something out of a 1980s New England fable. Misery’s quirks of speech only worked thanks to Kathy Bates’ unhinged madness. The only person that knows how to act in a Stephen King adaptation is Thomas Jane which is why he’s been in two of the best – The Mist and 1922. He knows where the emotional line is whereas Freeman doesn’t come close and Lewis overreaches. Oh, and Jason Lee sounds and looks kind of like Ryan Reynolds if you squint and listen hard enough which is brownie points in my book.
Dreamcatcher was made at a cost of 75 million dollars and that money seems wasted. The central CGI battle could have easily been cut and Morgan Freeman should have been replaced along with his eyebrow prosthetics by someone with the ability to emote for a pay cheque. Even worse is the last scene where Duddits turns into an alien. I can’t remember it well but I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen in the book and even if it did it would have felt less morally cheap than the film. Not to say that it wasn’t expensive financially, it probably was. Also having Henry kill Jonesy at the end would have been bleak but a bleak ending is always better than a cop out.
Dreamcatcher suffers from a host of problems that suffocate its already struggling potential. Damian Lewis’ performance is nothing like that of the man that would win critical acclaim years later in Homeland. He switches from a bland American accent to a somehow even more false English accent in the blink of an eye. At one-point Henry uses a gun as a phone to contact Jonesy telepathically, something the Dreamcatcher Wikipedia article specifically states as if warning us what kind of film we’re in for. Also, Donnie Wahlberg as a disabled man? Really? The worst part about Dreamcatcher wasn’t the ass eating alien leeches but how I felt like I was wasting away watching the film as if it was sucking my life’s blood.