I bet you’re thinking Hardy’s dream is something horrific or traumatic, a creepy bit of nastiness the director will relish scaring the viewer with repeatedly. As your humble reviewer, I am obligated to terrify you by describing it, so hold on to something sturdy if you’re squeamish. The dream is shot from a much younger Hardy’s lower vantage point, beginning in his mother’s kitchen. While stirring dinner, she tells him to go into the other room to ask his father about buying garlic at the supermarket. As Hardy walks through the hallway that connects the rooms his parents occupy, he notices an attic in the ceiling that did not exist in his childhood home. He looks up and sees a red cord dangling from the ceiling. Then he wakes up.
Now, having the same dream every night for decades would be troubling, but if I were Hardy, I’d be more concerned that my subconscious was dry, brittle, and devoid of any imagination. Sigal’s nonchalant staging of the dream only adds to how uninvolving it is and strikes the tone for the rest of the film. Far stranger things are happening in Hardy’s reality, but “Chariot” is never intrigued by them. Either Rosa explains them away, as she does when Hardy asks “what’s the deal about” the man who floats through their building’s lobby every night (“he floats,” she tells him) or they’re embodied onscreen by character actors who are whisked away before we can fully appreciate their weirdness.
As expected, John Malkovich is an example of the latter, but before discussing him, I must mention Scout Taylor-Compton’s character, Lauren. Lauren appears to be a nice, flirty woman, but Rosa warns Hardy that she’s sharing her body with an angry 55-year-old British bloke named Oliver. He takes control whenever he bloody well pleases, and he’s none too happy that Lauren’s sex life is violating his heterosexuality. Watching Taylor-Compton pinball between the accents of Lauren and Oliver is a highlight of “Chariot”; she infuses the movie with the bonkers energy that it lacks whenever Dr. Karn isn’t on screen. It’s too bad her screen time is so brief.