Courtesy Music Box Films

It’s 2035 and the government has levied a tax on the objects you see in your dreams, which you store and upload off memory sticks. Nattily tweed-coated auditor James Preble (Kentucker Audley) doesn’t like it any more than you would. The product placement regime is what grates him most; hitting the drive-through before work for a bucket of fried chicken like the one in his dream from the night before, he sighs at the sorry world from under the nostalgic brim of a porkpie hat. Paying a house call to an eccentric dream-tax delinquent named Arabella (Penny Fuller), Preble begins work on a ramshackle library of her dreams, which exist in a discontinued format: VHS, hilariously. The younger Bella (Grace Glowicki) dreamed with pre-capitalist abandon, ad-free, and at full saturation (the movie was shot digitally, then dubbed off the digital cut using 16mm). Once in, Preble can’t get enough of her mind—its saxophone-playing waiters with massive frog heads, its sands and tides, its chases through space.

And that’s pretty much what happens in this retro pleasure dome of a movie. Preble’s meekness amid the plots and snares set by his and Bella’s menacing dream animals recalls the dilemmas of Terry Gilliam’s heroes. But on the whole, the film subordinates the drama of Preble’s otherworldly capers to the sheer indulgence of lush textures, from room to room and dream to dream—from close-ups of Bella’s turtle tank to scenes in Preble’s pink-walled nightmare kitchen where he’s fed the fried chicken, from the deck of a ship run by mice to getting chained up in the hull by a blue-eyed demon, then escaping. Some bolder flights of fancy even gesture at fluffy 80s fantasy for kids like The NeverEnding Story, but always in an endearingly handmade way, which the bedroom grandeur of Dan Deacon’s score offsets at key moments. 92 min.

Music Box Theatre