Come True

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/25/20 15:13:08

"Nightmares not entirely in focus."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 NIGHTSTREAM VIRTUAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Come True" has the look of an indie horror movie that aims to be more than spooky - the sort that, by dint of the exceptionally specific circumstances of its characters and somewhat vague sources of its scares, must be About Something Real. As it turns out, while there's a fair amount going on here, writer/director/cinematographer Anthony Scott Burns appears to primarily be interested in creeping viewers out, and he's got a pretty darn good handle on that.

It opens with Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) having a weird dream and waking up, not in her home in a sleeping bag in a local park's playground. Why she's only running in and out of her family's house isn't said, but not getting proper sleep is starting to mess with her. Best friend Zoe (Tedra Rogers) is happy to let her stay over, but doing that too much causes trouble. Luckily, she finds a two-month sleep study that pays $12/hour, and for now, that looks like just what she needs, especially since the grad student she meets, Anita (Carlee Ryski), seems pretty nice and there are several subjects who have done it a few times, saying that it's not odd when the woman she shares the room with doesn't come back after a day or two, since sleeping in strange places is weird to a lot of people. When another patient has an episode, she realizes that the guy who followed her and Zoe earlier (Landon Liboiron) is one of the people doing the study, and she's having some very weird dreams. Plus, she's got no idea what this team is measuring.

If Come True were the sort of film I initially thought it was going to be, Burns would spend a fair amount of time digging into what's up with Sarah - that she's sleeping outside despite seemingly having a place to go suggests a rift that would be worth digging into, but it's approached obliquely at best, mostly serving to highlight how stubborn she can be, arguably well past the point where it makes any sense. For the most part, Sarah's circumstances are used to push her inevitably back to the sleep study, rather than make the movie about her, to the point where she spends much of the last act literally sleepwalking through the action.

It's a bit of a waste, because Julia Sarah Stone could carry a movie focused entirely on Sarah; for all that the audience is not given a lot of details about Sarah's life, she and Burns excel at convincing the audience that there is a consistent story behind all this and that it's slowly destroying her, with Stone excellent during the periods when she doesn't have anyone to work against. She's good the rest of the time, getting across how Sarah is often both smart and foolish. The way Burns eventually pairs her with Landon Liboiron's Jeremy is not always great story-wise, but it's fun to watch her teenage cockiness play off his junior mad scientist persona, where he's got a full dose of hubris but is still afraid of getting caught. It's nifty chemistry without coming off as cute for long enough to hobble Come True as a horror movie.

And when all is said and done, Burns and company do a great job of building up the creepiness from a good start to an exceptionally tense finale. Though set in the present, it often calls back to the sci-fi horror of the 1970s and 1980s, with fuzzy analog tech and bulky monitoring suits that scoff at modern, sleek design. There are eerie tracking shots through the caverns of Sarah's dreams that feel uncanny but not weightless the way virtual cameras often can be, with motifs that feel connected but aren't always decipherable and eerie presences that are dead simple in design but effective in use. Burns occasionally jostles the timeline just a bit to get the audience close to Sarah's confused, sleepless headspace, and spends the last act on a clever way to blur the line between the waking and dream worlds without doing the usual trippy thing.

That half of the movie is so impressively and meticulously executed that I look forward to seeing "Come True" again to see whether or not the pieces I wanted more from snap together better on a second go. Burns's previous film "Our House" aimed for and hit the same intersection of sci-fi, horror, and drama square, so it wouldn't be surprising even as he approaches it less directly.

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