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The Dust Factory Reviews

A low-budget sleeper, Eric Small's commendably sober and imaginative pre-teen fantasy would have benefited from a more generous special effects budget but gets by on the strength of its intelligence. The death of his beloved grandmother coupled with the sorrow of watching his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) succumb to Alzheimer's Disease, transforms Ryan Flynn (Ryan Kelley) into a mute, sullen boy whose hobbies provide a retreat from real life. Only Ryan's carefree buddy, Rocky (Michael Angarano), can coax him out of his shell. One day, while the boys are exploring a wooden railway bridge above a river, Ryan accidentally plunges into the water. When Ryan regains consciousness, the landscape looks the same but Rocky is gone; it soon becomes apparent that he's inhabiting a parallel universe where a series of introspective challenges that will force him to make some complex, adult decisions. Meanwhile, in the reality experienced by his parents, Ryan has slipped into a coma. As they wait by his bedside, Ryan encounters his grandfather, no longer undermined by the ravages of senility. Grandpa, Ryan's guide through this way station for the walking wounded, introduces Ryan to other sleeping souls, including Melanie Lewis (Hayden Panetierre). But why, Ryan is forced to wonder, has Melanie made her peace with living in this unreal safe haven? The focal point of this emotional/spiritual slumber land is the Dust Factory; under a circus big top, each visiting soul must swing on a trapeze and choose between passing over to eternal rest or returning to consciousness. As a sinister ringmaster intimidates them, Ryan and Melanie, his new sweetheart, consider the downside of retreating from waking life's pain; if Melanie is adamant about putting off the tough decision, will Ryan remain with her in limbo? A sort of pre-adolescent riff on WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998), this philosophical children's film poses tough questions and debates them with an intelligence and clarity for which the young actors deserve substantial credit.