While The Matrix received most of the credit for bringing the sci-fi paranoia of William Gibson (“Necromancer”) to the masses, it was Alex Proyas’ Dark City – released a full year before the Wachowskis’ bullet-time, “dream is a reality” revolution – that first envisioned a dystopian nightmare lurking beneath our everyday existence. John Murdock (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a dilapidated bathroom tub to find that he’s wanted for a string of grisly murders, but he can’t remember anything about his life. Hunted by gaunt men in black overcoats and hats known as the Strangers, Murdock discovers that he has some sort of telekinetic power called “tuning” that’s only wielded by these ghostly hunters. On the run from both the Strangers and a hardboiled inspector (William Hurt), Murdock reconnects with his estranged wife Emma (a ravishing-as-usual Jennifer Connelly) and the Strangers’ mysterious human cohort Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland), eventually uncovering a reality-shifting conspiracy being perpetrated against the city’s sleepy inhabitants. Proyas’ hauntingly beautiful metropolis is a hallucinatory architectural hybrid of ‘50s rigidity and glossy modern expressionism, and the Strangers’ regular reorganization of both the city’s physical structure and its citizen’s memories creates a palpable sense of inescapable terror. This ominously amorphous setting, however, never overshadows the film’s superb cast, and Connelly and Sutherland – as a traitorous but sympathetic modern version of Dr. Frankenstein (or is he Igor?) – are particularly excellent, bringing a feverish passion and panic to the mind-bending story’s revelations about humanity’s status as lab rats for a withering alien race. Dark City has a bluesy soul that fits with its depiction of the universal desire for home, identity, and peace, and Proyas’ elegantly fluid direction – marking a significant leap forward from his noir-ish work on The Crow – accentuates the film’s unsettling depiction of reality as elusive and ephemeral.