Kristoffer Borgil’s Dream Scenario is a thematically rich yet messy comedy that holds a mirror to our troubling desires of validation.
Whether you admit it or not, we’ve all dreamt of being seen in one way or another. Be appreciated by loved ones and strangers for simply existing. It’s a toxic trait, if we’re completely honest, though we can’t help it because wanting love and attention is part of our humanity. Social media has certainly amplified these feelings and made it easier to have them. Some have actually achieved the recognition they yearned for, others remain unseen. But fame and attention, once acquired, don’t come without their faults. Such exposure can actually lead somebody to become utterly despicable, or unlock unpleasant things about themselves. These themes are all explored by writer-director Kristoffer Borgil in Dream Scenario.
Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage, Renfield) is a family man who never quite made it in life, despite having a loving wife and children. That is until his world is turned upside down when strangers around the globe suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. Paul quickly becomes a viral sensation, and this finally grants him the spotlight he always desired. In more than one way, it becomes a blessing for him and his family, as they get deals and job offers as a result. But when his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate a newfound stardom that he might learn to regret.
It should come to nobody’s surprise that Dream Scenario’s strongest asset is Nicolas Cage’s wildly entertaining performance. Certain audience members might find an issue with his constant stuttering in the film, since it is overly cartoony at times, but if you’re watching a brand new Cage movie you know to expect ridiculously fun work from him. Yet, underneath the silliness, he tends to find the humanity and subtlety in Paul. He has to walk the fine line between making Paul awkwardly adorable and a self-centered character. Cage succeeds at both: one moment he has us rooting for him, the next he forces us to ask ourselves why we were on his side to begin with.
An element from Dream Scenario that should be praised as much as Cage’s work is the sound design. From the film’s opening sequence, sound designer Sylvain Bellemare captures what it feels like to have a mundane dream, only to be violently interrupted by a loud noise before waking up. It creates an eerie atmosphere, especially when the movie keeps cutting back and forth between the dream world and reality to disorientate the audience through similar visual and auditory beats. Sound editors Samuel Ganon-Thibodeau and Francis Gauthier, and the rest of the department for that matter, use their techniques quite beautifully to foreshadow Paul’s presence growing ever sinister in people’s dreams.
Kristoffer Borgil’s direction is exceptional. There is a great sense of passion you can identify through the mere concept that Dream Scenario relies on. It is imaginative, original, and fresh. There are times when Borgil balances comedy with horror-thriller undertones and family drama, sometimes within seconds apart from each other. From a directorial standpoint, Borgil shines as a filmmaker. From a screenwriter viewpoint, there are some areas of improvement that could have made this piece tighter and stronger.
Dream Scenario’s biggest flaw is that it’s overly ambitious, particularly in its latter half. What starts as a relatively simple concept for an obscure comedy starring a nobody who becomes somebody, eventually evolves into a film that has way too much to say for its own good. Paul seeking for the recognition that he always felt he deserved is an interesting arc in it of itself. But then Borgil adds thematic throughlines of cancel culture, inaccurate depictions of people online, emotional and physical abuse, capitalism abusing individuals for their own profit, and more. This culminates in Dream Scenario stating very little about each issue, which feels like a disservice to both the characters and the initial pitch of the film.
Borgil also falls into a specific category of storytellers who seem to take pleasure in cruelly punishing their main character. While Paul does do some weird and borderline sickening acts that make you question if you should have sympathy for him, the transition isn’t the smoothest. We are expected to believe him to be a complete monster towards the third act, when all he wants is for his old, boring life back. You could argue that this was intentional, as social media can irrationally turn on a person overnight. Yet, again, the execution is jarring and leaves a lot on the table.
Does Kristoffer Borgil’s Dream Scenario lose its footing? It does, but it doesn’t take anything away from what came prior to its climax, with its funny first act and the thrilling turns it takes. For what it’s worth, a project like Dream Scenario should still be celebrated for the risks it is willing to take, whether they work or not. We need more original films that aren’t afraid of challenging their audience. What better movie to do that than one starring Nicolas Cage where he makes bizarre comedic and dramatic choices as a performer? If the film seems like it may lose you, Cage will always be there to pull you right back.
Dream Scenario will be released in US theaters on Friday, November 10, 2023.