Dir: Nathan Morlando. Canada. 2016. 108mins
Director Nathan Morlando makes a concerted effort to inject dynamism and emotion into the telling of Mean Dreams, but fights a losing battle against the cliched writing and some risible plotting. As such, this tale of star-crossed teenage lovers, ill-gotten gains and the vengeful father on their trail emerges as an unexceptional B-movie thriller. Handsome settings and the promise of the young players are the positive elements of a film that lacks any obvious selling points, and seems likely to struggle outwith the spotlight of the festival circuit.
Bill Paxton provides the theatrical excess that his role demands
The film begins promisingly enough, with Morlando investing the time in creating a plausible relationship between teenage farm boy Jonas (Josh Wiggins) and his new neighbour Casey (Sophie Nelisse). The boy’s bashful manner and shy smiles are joined with her spark and stoicism to create a couple in which we can believe. There is enough backstory and seeds of mystery to keep us intrigued. We know that Casey has been forced to move to this rural backwater because of something in her father’s past. We know that Jonas is at odds with his spineless father and a mother lost to a haze of presumed alcoholism.
So far, so good until writers Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby press the overwrought button and Bill Paxton swaggers into view as Casey’s father Wayne, clearly a graduate from the Max Cady school of heartless bullies. He is soon beating Casey, threatening to drown Jonas and demanding that the friendship end. That’s only the beginning of the troubles, as Wayne is also a cop who has strayed far from the straight and narrow.
When the teenagers flee with Wayne’s million dollar stash of cash, you expect all hell to break loose except that, having established Wayne as the bad guy, he is now sidelined in favour of an unnecessary side plot involving his fellow officer (Colm Feore). Naturally, there never seems an option of simply reporting any of this to the authorities, surrendering the money and letting justice take its course.
There are vague attempts at a mashed up fairytale vibe to Mean Dreams, with Wayne as the Big Bad Wolf and Jonas and Casey as a latterday Hansel and Gretel. One character even remarks about the trail of crumbs they have left in their wake. That is never fully developed, and the promise of a latter-day Badlands is equally unfulfilled.
Sophie Nelisse and Josh Wiggins are largely convincing in their roles and Bill Paxton provides the theatrical excess that his role demands although even he cannot prevent the odd snigger at his wide-eyed poses of innocence. Cinematographer Steve Cosens does a fine job of capturing the changing colours of the autumn leaves, the piercing light of the sun and the vast rural landscapes in which the fugitives are just dots on the horizon.
Son Lux’s often thunderous score overplays the moments of tension, but more fatal is the number of times a line of dialogue or a twist in the tale prompt derision.
Production companies: Woods Entertainment, Tip Top Productions, Project AMB, Vigilante Productions,
International sales: Mister Smith Entertainment, MeanDreams@mistersmithent.com
Producers: William Woods, Allison Black
Screenplay: Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby
Cinematography: Steve Cosens
Editors: Ronald Sanders, Sandy Pereira
Production design: Zosia Mackenzie
Music: Son Lux
Main cast: Sophie Nelisse, Josh Wiggins, Colm Feore, Bill Paxton