By Owen Gleiberman
January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

There was a moment when supernatural horror tropes seemed spooky, even revelatory, within the context of ”secular” modern life. No longer. In Neil Jordan’s dismayingly schlocky and literal-minded thriller, In Dreams, Claire Cooper (Annette Bening), a small-town wife and mother, hallucinates her young daughter’s murder, and days later the awful premonition comes true. But Claire’s dreams don’t stop. The killer’s psyche has gotten inside her, and she is overwhelmed by visions of storybook terror: a nightmare apple orchard, eerie underwater plunges, moldering hallways with nasty surprises behind the doors, many more apples still. The movie is overwhelmed as well. Bening’s flash-cut blood reveries, while lushly designed and photographed, arrive with such joyless regularity that the film never quite establishes a compelling reality for them to disrupt. Jordan may think he’s making Don’t Look Now, but what he ends up with is A Nightmare on Elm Street 14 — a rock-video gothic, crowned by the image of Robert Downey Jr., as the longhaired killer, working hard to act threatening; it’s not in his emotional vocabulary. The talented Bening has the thankless task of having to go choppy-haired hysterical, as Claire’s visions convince everyone around her that she’s a delusional psychotic. If there had been a touch of ambiguity about the issue, she might have seemed a gripping head case rather than a mere victim. C-

In Dreams

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