This satirical swipe at celebrity and groupthink from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli and co-producer Ari Aster stars Nicolas Cage as an inconspicuous academic who is thrust into the limelight after he starts inexplicably appearing in people’s dreams.
Nicolas Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a listless family man and tenured professor with an affinity for evolutionary biology and anxiety regarding his own anonymity. One day, he discovers he has begun to appear in other people’s dreams at an exponential rate. As in life, his presence in these dreams is banal and non-intrusive — he’s simply there, staring indifferently at the fantasies and nightmares of strangers. Nonetheless, he becomes an overnight celebrity, and is soon showered with the attention he has long been denied. But when Paul encounters a dreamer whose visions of him differ substantially from the norm, he finds himself grappling with the Faustian bargain of fame as his dream-selves start inexplicably becoming violent within their respective subconsciousnesses.
Co-produced by Ari Aster, a consummate alchemist of surrealist horror and anxious comedy, Dream Scenario proceeds as a kind of comedic reversal of A Nightmare on Elm Street, with Paul in the proverbial striped sweater terrorizing the populus, but, here, facing real-life consequences for actions he does not control. Cage is brilliant as the pitiable Matthews, and outright terrifying as some of his manifestations, which feature an iconic intensity not seen in a Cage part since Mandy (incidentally shot by this film’s cinematographer Ben Loeb). Buoyed by a terrific cast that features Julianne Nicholson and Michael Cera, this dryly hilarious satire-cum–social horror affirms writer-director Kristoffer Borgli as an astute critic of influencer culture and societal groupthink, and a gifted purveyor of the absurd.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: sexually suggestive scenes, frightening scenes