Few movies immediately capture your attention like Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True. The film opens on a gray, foggy hellscape with the camera meticulously moving toward a jagged rock formation and entering a cave. Within the cave is a door, which slowly opens to reveal a shadowy humanoid figure with its back turned. As the camera creeps closer to the entity, it doesn’t turn to reveal its menacing features; it just continues to stand in place. Even though Come True sparingly uses jump scares, the lingering possibility that something could happen at any second paired with steady, slow movements are what makes its frightful imagery effective.
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) has trouble sleeping. She awakes from her dream on a slide in a park playground. For reasons that never become obvious, Sarah is a semi-runaway. She still attends school and has a close friend, but she never sleeps at home, only sneaking back into her house on occasion to shower and quickly grab some food. It’s possible she suffered from some sort of abuse, but what’s instantly clear is that she always seems haunted. Stone is terrific in these quiet moments, adding more to the character than what’s on the page with her slender physique and overwhelmingly exhausted look. You don’t know much about her, but you’re immediately rooting for her.
Naturally, when Sarah sees a flyer for a sleep study at a local facility, she jumps at the opportunity. The first test seems to go well too. Sarah gets plenty of rest and while cagey, the scientists are friendly and reassuring. One of Come True’s sneaky strengths is that the scientists are not portrayed as monsters, which adds to the believability of the proceedings. When some of the scientists act out, the lead of the study, Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington, sporting some cartoonishly large, George Romero-esque glasses), reams them for it. They all certainly have their quirks, but they also have a level of humanity that is uncommon for movies about nightmarish testing facilities.
Come True’s signature trait is its visual sense. The dream sequences are mesmerizing in their ghoulishness, but the reality Anthony Scott Burns creates is just as interesting. There are a lot of parallels between Come True and fellow Canadian sci-fi horror film Possessor, with each blending plenty of 80s cult-horror-inspired influences and near-future science fiction technology. The scientists use mostly analog technology for their dream studies and take their readings from fuzzy monitors. It’s the kind of tactile future you’d expect from a director who probably grew up watching Cronenberg movies on VHS.
The tests grow more intense by the session, and research controller Jeremy (Landon Liboiron) seems to grow more odd by the second. His character is by far the weakest of the bunch as he begins to take the spotlight away from Sarah and the film starts to seemingly reward his gross behavior.
Still, Burns conjures a considerable amount of tension, reaching its peak a little after the midway point. Sightings of the black entity become more terrifying by the moment with the experiment threatening to get out of hand.
Then, Come True suddenly becomes a wholly different movie, in one of the most jarring left turns I’ve seen this year. An iconically bad romance subplot ensues, which reduces Sarah from an intriguing if slightly underwritten presence to a literal conduit for the film’s self-indulgent and slightly perverted impulses. The visual flourishes rapidly lose their potency as the film gets further away from what made it so intriguing in the first place. And when it finally places all its cards on the table, you begin to wonder if any of this was worth it at all.
You might go mad thinking about what a few script rewrites could have done for Come True. There’s a great movie somewhere in there, which makes it all the more exasperating to watch it devolve into something so pointless by the end.
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Come True is one of the more frustrating films you’ll come across this year. Seeing a film with this much craft fall on its face so badly is agonizing to watch.
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