Even if it were not for the fact that Mean Dreams has become Bill Paxton's penultimate picture, Nathan Morlando's thriller would be worth recommending entirely on its own merits. Start with cinematographer Steve Cosens (The Tracey Fragments), who uses sharp focus and the occasional faded Polaroid-style filter to lovingly caress every bump and contour of the jagged tree stumps and run-down farmhouses that litter the beautifully middle-of-nowhere setting. The effect makes this world alien yet universal: The two teens who will become our leads fall in love because they are literally the only boy and girl in the world as far as their eyes can see. Jonas (Josh Wiggins) is an only child who works on his parents' farm; Casey (Sophie Nélisse) has just moved to town with single dad Wayne (Paxton), a cop who's recently been reassigned. Here, our trust in Paxton when he's playing laid-back is expertly twisted once he snaps and reaches the end of his rope.
When Wayne beats Casey and tries to drown Jonas, the teenagers decide to run away together; Wayne pursues them. Paxton seemed the epitome of well-adjusted but was adept at playing the opposite. At his side as the local police chief is Colm Feore, as coldly distant and sinister a sidekick as he could ask for, all restrained villainous ego to Paxton's evil id.
The teen romance that's front and center is as charming as it is chaste. Their surroundings are as much heightened beauty as Paxton's bad dad is heightened evil, showing us the world as an infatuated young adult might see it.