Credit: Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn/IFFR
by Jesse Catherine Webber Film

Dream Team — Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn [IFFR ’24 Review]

February 2, 2024

Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s (L for Leisure, Two Plains & a Fancy) new film Dream Team boasts two assets not often paired together in a feature film: a sense of humor open to the silly and an eye for interesting visual phenomena. The film stars Esther Garrel (Lover for a Day, Call Me By Your Name) and Alex Zhang Hungtai (a musician formerly of Dirty Beaches who more recently provided the score to Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland) as “two hot INTERPOL agents” investigating a series of coral-related deaths, and is organized into seven episodes (adding up to a bit over 90 minutes) with titles like “Asses to Ashes” and “Coral Me Bad.” Though each episode begins with a brief credit sequence listing the directors, composers, and one of the film’s actors, the structure is otherwise haphazard. Some title cards appear after the credits, some at the end of the previous episode as a tease. Perhaps this is in keeping with the film’s affinity for ‘90s basic cable thrillers — in her programming notes for IFFR, Michelle Carey suggests “Baywatch Nights were it directed by Maya Deren” — an earlier, less prescriptive period for that medium, as the gauzy photography certainly is.

After a cold open in which researcher Dr. Theresa Gorgeous is killed, while taking a steamy bath, by poison gas released from coral in her house, the first two episodes both start with Zhang’s Agent Close dreaming of a marine murder. The first dream he recounts himself to his interns, placing more emphasis on his positionality as a dog than the murder. The second dream, though, is told back to him by a witness to the murder when he and Garrel’s Agent No visit the crime scene. She describes not only the content of the dream, but the surreal visual effects in which the murder victim is multiplied by repeated exposure, drawing the surreality deeper into the fabric of the film. Later episodes also begin with effects-heavy sequences in which curious movements eventually triangulate an invisible man, later revealed to be named Carl, when he interrupts Agent No’s sexual encounter with another witness in order to share some disturbing information.

By the time the film’s narrative jaunts off to a co-ed co-op basketball team participating in a wine tasting, it has become clear closure isn’t the plan. Despite the appearance of Agent Chase’s ex-wife, which Carl warns Agent No of, the only particularly relevant information is doled out via news broadcast, as Agent No and Agent Chase’s scientist contact, Dr. Vanessa Beef (creator of the coral simulator Beef Reef v1.4), is revealed to be one of a number of further victims of the unresolved coral conspiracy, and the final title card advertises an upcoming season that seems unlikely ever to exist. Though the film is bursting with narrative incident when compared to similarly lo-fi American independent films — if this is your first exposure to Kalman and Horn’s films (as it was for this writer), the recent productions of Omnes Films might be a useful association — it couldn’t be mistaken for a mainstream film driven by narrative. The incident instead fades into a fabric that also makes room for light smut, again in keeping with its television influences, as well as more abstract sequences, like a significant chunk of the fourth episode that crosscuts the agents at a strip club named “Dress 2 Undress” with Chase’s interns rehearsing modern dance. Kalman and Horn also devote far more screen time to non-human subjects than antsy television audiences would allow; most often coral or other aquatic landscapes, but even a series of establishing shots of the library housing the interns is allowed to unfold deliberately as Kalman and Horn excavate all the visual interest they can from the specificity of the location’s design. Dream Team isn’t likely to satisfy audiences nostalgic for the lowbrow entertainment it evokes, but it certainly entertains at a baser level than the art film audiences for which it is actually intended are used to.

Published as part of IFFR 2024 — Dispatch 2.