By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
After years of mostly mediocre straight-to-video releases, Academy-Award winning actor Nicolas Cage came back with The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a self-reflective film that, coupled with other releases around the same time, propelled Cage back to stardom. Cage had seldom been seen on the big screen for the last decade prior to the release of that film, but he’s now on a streak once again with the likes of Pig and Renfield under his belt.
Next up for Cage is A24’s Dream Scenario, which follows a mundane, run of the mill professor named Paul Matthews struggling to be seen or heard in his professional and personal life. Cage’s lead character quickly gains worldwide fame after appearing in everyone’s dreams, leading to the attention he has always craved, although not for the reasons he had hoped. The attention from the general public, who at one point revered him, eventually turned sour as the dreams turned into nightmares. Paul Matthews turns into a villain, cancelled for his actions in other peoples dreams, which leads to drastic consequences.
The first half of the movie is largely a quirky, low-key comedy, with Cage playing a humorously awkward middle aged man. Matthews makes jokes that don’t land and his uncomfortableness in social situations is palpable and hilarious, but in a way that makes him an endearing lead character. Cage, as predicted, excels in this role, flexing his comedic muscles and showcasing his ability to time humorous lines perfectly and nail yet another oddball character. A particular scene that highlights Cage’s comedic timing is when Matthews meets an old partner for coffee, in which the lead character hilariously stutters and stumbles through the entire conversation before saying something completely unintelligible to conclude the conversation.
The second half of the film quickly turns into a thriller / horror outing, trading its light-hearted and more whimsical tone for something far more unnerving. When the dreams that the public are having of Matthews transition into nightmares, he’s no longer a hero or well-liked celebrity. Aspirations to use his rise to stardom to meet the likes of President Barack Obama are off the table, as are Matthews’ hopes of publishing a book on his research on ants. The visions people are having aren’t just off-putting, they’re genuinely terrifying. Cage’s character goes from mundanely standing in people’s dreams to committing violent and often life-ending acts against people, turning their dreams into a nightmares. In one instance, Cage strangles a student of his with a sharp wire in a scene that is straight out of a horror movie.
This second half of film is where Cage truly excels. He maintains his trademark wacky, captivating performance style, but now places himself firmly within a suddenly terrifying story. Cage is no longer just humorous, but is instead a pitiful figure who is being ostracized for something he isn’t responsible for whatsoever. As well as feeling bad for Matthews, Cage ensures that the terror the world around his character feels is transferred to the audience. Matthews doesn’t act any differently, nor does he dress or look differently, and yet he just feels darker and more dangerous. Much of that has to do with Cage’s performance and the way in which he embraces playing a man whose life is truly falling apart.
Dream Scenario is directed by Kristoffer Borgli, who helms this film with a light touch and grace throughout. Borgli gets the most out of Cage, while also giving him a story to appear in that is worthy of his talents. The director ensures that the film is enjoyable on multiple levels, first in an entertainment sense; Borgli tells a funny, unpredictable story. There’s a deeper, more thematic level to the enjoyment as well, as the concepts of going viral in a modern age and cancel culture are tackled with a particular sensitivity and care that allows the audience to intimately contemplate these themes.
Dream Scenario sees Nicolas Cage at his best – playing an oddball character at the intersection of hilarious and horrifying. The new A24 film tells the story of a man becoming a viral sensation in the most bizarre of ways, while commenting on cancel culture and the perils of fast fame. Cage is the obvious standout of the film, pulling everything together with his performance in a way that elevates the story and takes it to a whole different level. With a unique concept delivered in a sharp, tonally varied script, Dream Scenario proves to be one of the best films of the year – and far more than a dream than a nightmare.