This is not your typical serial killer chiller thriller. Directed by Neil Jordan (The Butcher Boy), In Dreams approaches its B-movie framework with a classy, visual style that the genre rarely deserves. The opening shot - of two divers exploring the stark, unwelcoming beauty of a drowned town - - is such a slap of stinging atmosphere that the remainder of the film finds it impossible to match. Hinting at deeper themes, you instantly get the feeling that there's more to this psychological terror than another fugitive wacko and a desire to make you shriek. This, you start thinking to yourself, could be good.
But while you can praise In Dreams for its cinematography and invention, every remarkable moment is cruelly sat on by a large-arsed cliché. A flashback showing a boy chained to a bed in a flooding room is undone by the serial killer's telekinetic ability to possess computers from a distance, and the effect of a car plunging into a reservoir is sucked away by dominatrix mothers, childhood abuse and endlessly recited nursery rhymes. Bening's performance is powerful, but the film's narrow focus breeds a claustrophobic mood that supporting bit-players Quinn, Stephen Rea (a psychiatrist), and Paul Guilfoyle (the investigating cop) can't hope to lift.
In trying to put a fresh spin on the psychological horror, you discover that Jordan can't escape the basics. Shackled by the need to be scary, In Dreams loses its footing after 45 minutes, making a grab for the thematic strands of Silence Of The Lambs, Nightmare On Elm Street and Psycho, before plunging into a goofy finale where Robert Downey Jr makes a bizarre and forgettable entrance. It's a safe bet that when Bening whispers "I'm not obsessed, I'm possessed, doctor", you will switch off.
Neil Jordan attempts to inject personality and spirit into a genre dominated by screaming teens and blood. But a promising start is hampered by a jumble of half ideas that dismiss splatter in favour of inexplicable dream rape and psychic possession.