Few faces burn more deeply into the cultural zeitgeist than Nicolas Cage’s, which is why Dream Scenario’s neo-surrealist premise is so perfect for the actor. Unfortunately, Norwegian helmer Kristoffer Borgli overdoes it with cancel culture jokes and lazy criticisms of everything from influencers to wellness culture.
A muddled satire, this one owes a debt to Kaufman and the Coen Brothers, yet fails to hit the mark.
Despite Borgli’s clumsy execution of his tonal tightrope, Dream Scenario’s unique and entertaining premise lands mostly on solid ground thanks to Cage’s schlubby central performance. Paul Matthews is a nondescript evolutionary biology professor who begins showing up in the dreams of his students, colleagues and people he doesn’t know. He doesn’t do anything in their recurring hallucinations of anxiety and horror, but he’s always there, a benign presence in the background like an unwanted dad sweater.
Norwegian helmer Kristoffer Borgli mines his rich surreal premise for savage laughs and existential anxiety in this wry comedy about the cost of fame and the fickle nature of success. His English-language debut features a brash Nicolas Cage who embraces the role’s schlubbiness, making his character’s repeated humiliations feel both funny and gutting. But the flixtor film eventually loses focus and momentum when it turns its crisp character study into a lazy cancel culture satire. Ari Aster produced and co-wrote.
After a tragedy, a man withdraws into the Oregon wilderness to live alone with his truffle-hunting pig. When he returns to the seedy underground world he left behind however, his beloved animal is stolen and he must face old enemies in a non-violent quest to reclaim it.
First time director Michael Sarnoski (Sick of Me) entrusts Cage with an impressively layered role that calls for both tenderness and brute force. He has a keen understanding of the actor’s particular brand of eccentricity, making abrupt cuts feel propulsive rather than jarring. And, while the film eventually overreaches into the realm of melodrama and satire, a surprisingly strong performance from Cage holds it together throughout.
In a career filled with borderline mediocrity, Cage’s work here is as good as it gets. It’s hard to imagine any other actor tackling this sort of wry premise with such effortless charm and believability. This is the kind of movie that shows that when the right person is in the driver’s seat, there really is no one better at steering a rocky ship through choppy waters.
2023 Beau Is Afraid
Despite a remarkable performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Beau is Afraid falls short of being a successful horror-comedy. The film is riddled with too many cinematic references for its own good and relies on subverting expectations so frequently that it eventually becomes predictable, if not rote.
Ari Aster has proved he’s one of the most exciting directors working today, thanks to the sheer terror of Hereditary and the thematically rich layers of Midsommar. His latest work, however, is a misguided muddle that will confuse as much as it enthralls.
Beau is Afraid stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man trying to make his way back home in time for his mother’s funeral. The journey is an absurdist allegory about fear, family, and guilt that isn’t afraid to embrace its own insanity. It takes place in a lawless city where suicide is celebrated as public entertainment and naked serial killers shivve people on the street for fun. It is a bleak vision of American life that has been skewed by self-loathing and codependency.
With a grotesque blend of humor and body horror, Dream Scenario walks a tonal tightrope. The premise of a professor who begins appearing in people’s nightmares provides plenty of fertile material for dark comedy. But Borgli takes it further, examining the cost of fame and the way our unconscious can shape our reality.
It’s a bold vision that’s helped along by the strong performances of its cast, especially Cage in an uncharacteristically schlubby role. But it’s a film that loses momentum as it moves beyond its initial premise, and tries to touch on too many points of satire until it becomes too muddled.
It doesn’t have the same engrossing quality as Hereditary, and it takes too long to get to the climactic reveal. However, for those willing to take a chance on this twisted horror-comedy, it’s well worth a look. Just be prepared to squint through the film’s bleak Nordic landscape and tedious first hour.