Starring Josh Wiggins, Sophie Nélisse, Bill Paxton, Colm Feore
Nathan Morlando’s second feature Mean Dreams has an awfully familiar narrative. It’s a forced coming of age story, with Hellion’s Josh Wiggins, still coming of age on his third feature. Intentionally or not, this small-town thriller with corrupt cops and abusive family themes has Frailty vibes (which was directed by Paxton) and more recently reminiscent of Cop Car. Mean Dreams screenwriters have little to no experience in writing, and while this story does create a modicum of suspense with two teenagers fleeing for their lives, an astute cinephile can predict the conclusion following the first time the two love birds meet. In what will be one of Paxton’s final rolls, the Texas native has played this ruthless act before, so has co-star Colm Feore (The Changeling).
“Can’t miss what you never had,” young Casey Caraway says. The Caraways just moved in next door to the Fords, a farming family. Their son Jonas (Wiggins) is distracted from his usual routine when Casey comes around. The two are instantly attracted to each other, being the only humans for miles; And just as instantly, rebuked by their fathers for spending time together. When Jonas witnesses Wayne Caraway abusing his daughter, the young boy jumps into action, nearly getting himself killed. Something isn’t right with this family and when Jonas learns Wayne’s deadly secret, he makes a move that sets into motion circumstances that force the two teenagers on the run with two corrupt policemen on their trail. “If he catches us, he will beat me an inch from death. But you, he will go all the way,” Casey warns.
Editing could have tightened unimportant moments that run long to make this a more compact thriller.
There are scenes that portray teenage romance like a Terrence Malick movie, nervous teenagers carrying on conversations while picking at tree bark or rustling their boots. The camera takes the viewer everywhere but their faces and expressions. This concept is abandon later when the adrenaline sets in. Aside from the suspense plot, the early part of the film is interesting how both fathers want their children to stay away from each other. Partly it feels because of mating worries, however each father is reliant on their offspring to keep their life in working order. The script is obvious in its character reveal, as Wayne refers to his daughter as “Baby Girl”, which keen viewers will instantly recognize is a dead giveaway for the villain.
Mean Dreams is overly perfunctory in the execution of simple scenes. Running at nearly two hours, the editing could have tightened unimportant moments that run long to make this a more compact thriller. There are few surprises here, the story goes exactly where you might expect. “Not everything is so easy when you are a kid,” Wayne says. “Breadcrumbs” is the word often used here to explain how the adults constantly find these kids on the run. Wiggins continues to excel in these country roles, he comes to the world of cinema from a small town outside of Houston. What we haven’t seen from him yet, is playing against type like fellow Texan actor Tye Sheridan who got his start the same way.
Solid independent thriller too often resigned to familiarity.