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‘Dreamcatcher’ Review: An EDM slasher that’s hesitant to let the beat drop

An iconic slasher look is sacrificed on the altar of unchecked ambition.

Niki Koss in 'Dreamcatcher'.
(Image: © Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Our Verdict

'Dreamcatcher' is a solid attempt to introduce a new sound to the world of horror, but the track ends up coming out as overproduced noise.

For

  • ✨Instantly iconic slasher design.
  • ✨Fun kills.

Against

  • ✨Long stretches where the film seems to forget it's a horror movie.
  • ✨None of these overdeveloped characters are interesting.

At the very least, you can’t say Dreamcatcher isn’t ambitious. Writer-director Jacob Johnston is really trying to do something new with slasher movie tropes by moving away from formula, making a film that is uniquely his own and pushes the boundaries of expectations. The thing about artistic experiments, though, is that you can respect the attempt to reach new heights while acknowledging a project’s failure to elevate to that point. And unfortunately, Dreamcatcher just doesn’t live up to its lofty ambitions, mostly because it fails to acknowledge what works about the genre it attempts to subvert.

The film follows a collection of friends and acquaintances as they attend the Cataclysm Music Festival, a one-night EDM party where one of the headliners is Dylan, known on stage as DJ Dreamcatcher (Travis Burns). When one of the partygoers, Pierce (Niki Koss), falls into Dylan’s orbit and takes mescaline with him backstage. As her sister Ivy (Elizabeth Posey) discovers Pierce under the influence, a violent incident occurs that shoves the unsuspecting friend group into a world of entertainment industry cover-ups as a killer in a DJ Dreamcatcher mask roams the club scene and starts picking off people one by one.

There are some very cool aspects of Dreamcatcher that require absolutely no qualification. The DJ Dreamcatcher mask and outfit is instantly iconic, and the kills are legitimately well-staged, gory fun. The dance club setting is a neat twist on getting a bunch of twenty-somethings together for a slaughter, and the film’s EDM soundtrack gives off great vibes. This should be a recipe for success, but with the exception of those noteworthy kills, Dreamcatcher is weirdly reticent to lean into its identity as a slasher film.

As oxymoronic as that sounds, it largely has to do with how the screenplay prioritizes fleshing out its characters over capitalizing on its spectacle. Great care has clearly been taken to get into the mindsets of Ivy’s estrangement from Pierce, Pierce’s strained friendship with the lovesick Jake (Zachary Gordon), Ivy’s boyfriend Colton’s (Lou Ferrigno Jr.) past trauma, and Pierce’s former-hookup-turned-stalker Hunter (Blaine Kern III). The problem is that so much time and attention is paid to the intricacies of their lives that the film becomes bogged down in the minutiae of a cast that is overwhelmingly difficult to like and take forever to reach their time on the chopping block. It’s a total pace killer, ignoring the fact that people don’t watch slasher films to empathize with most of the victims while failing to subvert the trope by providing enough incentive to care about these victims.

This only becomes further exacerbated as Dreamcatcher doubles down on its pacing woes by complicating its plot in the back half, revealing an entertainment industry conspiracy that only tangentially ties back to the festival attendees. Between a slew of new character introductions, unconvincing red herrings hinting at the killer’s identity, and some very strange digressions into the nature of cancel culture, it’s amazing that the film finds time for its kills at all. This culminates in a left-field twist ending for the ages, which heavily alludes to Shakespeare of all things but fails to carry any of the emotional weight of the bard’s works because the groundwork is never laid to build toward it.

It’s easy to want to like Dreamcatcher for attempting something different, for bending the rules of genre conventions in order to mash together the disparate aspects of character drama and exploitative violence. But its attempted subversion is a veritable mess of convoluted plot threads, unnecessary backstory, and long stretches where the plot sits in a holding pattern. At times, it feels like the film is ashamed to be a slasher, even though it shines brightest when it drops its pretensions and goes right back to killing. There’s a solid attempt here to introduce a new sound to the world of horror, but the track ends up coming out as overproduced noise.

Dreamcatcher releases on VOD on March 5, 2021.