top of page

SOMNIUM Review: A Cautionary Tale of Chasing Dreams

By Amylou Ahava

Making its world premiere at this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival, SOMNIUM is the feature debut of writer/director Racheal Cain. This film guides us through the blurred lines between dreams, reality, and the pursuit of star-studded aspirations. The story follows Gemma, who moves to Los Angeles post-heartbreak to chase her Hollywood dreams, but all she finds are nightmares. Soon, she realizes Tinseltown isn’t just made of glitz and glamor, so she starts working overnight shifts at Somnium. 

With its creepy vibes and sinister secrets, Somnium becomes a playground for exploring what happens when we try to take control of our dreams. Cain navigates this surreal dreamscape as she mixes thought-provoking themes with a touch of horror and makes us wonder just how far we’d go to turn our dreams into reality (or what might happen if we mess with our subconscious too much).

Timely reminiscent of Mia Goth’s character Pearl/Maxine, Gemma (Chloë Levine) travels from small town nowhere in the South to the bustling, glamorous world of LA. She wants to be a star (but also needs to pay the bills), so while she waits for her big break, she works the overnight shift at Somnium (which claims to make dreams come true). 

Headed by the supposed psychology genius Dr. Katherine Shaffer (Gillian White), Somnium is essentially a sleep lab that, through a rigorous six-week schedule, reprograms the clients’ brains while they sleep. The patients tell the good doctor what they want from life (their hopes and dreams), and their subconscious becomes filled with sounds and images that will supposedly allow them to manifest these dreams.

Honestly, the idea of tweaking someone’s personality with synthetic dreams is simultaneously an idealistic fantasy and a creepy dystopian one. Gemma’s role in all of this is basically to watch the people sleep and make sure nothing goes wrong. But what could go wrong in an impossibly creepy and dark laboratory in the middle of the night?

The main plot and the subplot revolve around chasing dreams in very different ways: the main plot is about the literal manipulation of dreams to alter reality, while the subplot focuses on Gemma's emotional journey and her dreams of moving on from her past. At first, Gemma’s life seems to ramp up to something great. She is getting auditions, meets a guy who takes her to all kinds of industry parties, and even starts to get over the guy she left behind back home. 

However, despite Somnium’s success, the business also holds many dark secrets. Gemma stumbles upon something truly unsettling in this eerie setting: a mysterious and irreversible procedure called Cloud 9. It’s used when the usual treatment messes up and pushes patients to their breaking point instead of boosting their confidence. This dark discovery, along with Gemma's own haunted dreams about her ex, Hunter (Peter Vack), and memories of her small-town life, cranks up the psychological tension. 

Despite the horror aspects not being as powerful as they could be, the strong performances by the leads and the director's vision make the film memorable. Known for her roles in Transfiguration and The Ranger, Chloë Levine delivers a layered and captivating performance as Gemma. She simultaneously captures Gemma's naivete and determination and portrays her character’s journey with a mix of innocence and resolve. Levine’s nuanced portrayal brings Gemma’s fading dreams of a glamorous L.A. life into sharp contrast with the chilling reality of the Somnium clinic, which infuses the film with genuine emotion.

Opposite Levine is Will Peltz, who plays Noah, the dream designer at Somnium. He introduces Gemma to the clinic's unsettling procedures, and even more unsettling secrets. While Noah’s role has potential, Peltz’s performance feels somewhat flat and could have used more depth and development. 

Racheal Cain, doubling as the film’s production designer, dreams up an unsettling atmosphere that amps the tension in SOMNIUM. Paired with Lance Kuhns’ cinematography and Claire Kirk’s set decoration, this team of nightmare makers creates an unforgettable ambiance. The clinic’s blend of high-tech gadgetry and eerie vibes (imagine softly glowing sleep pods and shadowy hallways) sets the scene for some seriously disquieting moments.

Even outside the laboratory, the setting remains in nightmare mode. Gemma’s rundown apartment building adds to the creep factor, so filled with shadows and despair it makes you wonder if something from work, or the parties, follows her home. These visual elements give SOMNIUM a timeless, surreal edge that perfectly complements its unsettling storyline.

 SOMNIUM is a cautionary tale about chasing dreams and combines sci-fi and horror with an emotional punch. The film explores the risks of altering personalities through synthetic dreams, reminding us that not all dreams are worth pursuing. While the horror elements could have been stronger, standout performances by Chloë Levine and the director's vision elevate the film. Levine's portrayal of Gemma, coupled with the eerie atmosphere and haunting visuals, effectively conveys the dangers lurking beneath seemingly perfect dreams.

Despite its flaws, SOMNIUM unsettles the audience and provokes thought about the consequences of our desires.

SOMNIUM had its World Premiere at the 2024 Chattanooga Film Festival.


bottom of page