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Ever have a bad dream? Maybe, you’ve had the same bad dream more than once… Well, writer, director and composer Anthony Scott Burns artfully explores the edges of daily reality that often become our nightmares in Come True (2020), with unsettling results.
It’s a pretty simple setup. We open on a gloomy monochromatic nightmare, which creeps through a dilapidated hallway and finds a hunched, malformed figure… Then, Sarah Dunn (Julia Sarah Stone) springs awake from her bad dream on a children’s slide in a deserted park. She’s having trouble sleeping, and staying awake is proving just as difficult. Haunting her daylight hours, with stolen showers, a dozen cups of coffee and narcoleptic maths lessons, it all becomes too much, and Sarah nervously signs up to a sleep study program at a local university to get some answers and a goodnight’s sleep.
The story is broken up into chapters, referencing the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung and his studies into the unconscious mind and objective psyche. Admittedly, this was somewhat lost on me as a first time viewer (I had to Google what ‘The Anima and The Animus’ meant for this review…), which underpins the film’s brittle surface, layered with 1980s film references, the most visually obvious one being the Tron-like sleep suits that Sarah and her fellow subjects wear to track their sleeping habits and dreams. There’s an icy feeling of dread every time Sarah closes her eyes to sleep, and the sterile hospital room slowly morphs into a squelchy netherworld of flickering fluorescent lights, dilapidated buildings, dark humanoid creatures and cryptic clues to Sarah’s forgotten past life.
It is fair to say director, writer and composer Anthony Scott Burns has constructed a film that is a maze of cinematic textures, with a razor-sharp focus for detail, which quickly abandons the modern world of iPhones, Spotify playlists and Instagram posts for a more analogue vibe. Maybe, it’s a little too easy to make the comparison to the late-1980’s work of master of horror John Carpenter, who similarly loved producing glassy and throbbing synthesizer film scores to accompany the onscreen horror. But Burns isn’t so viscerally inclined to dismember doe-eyed teenagers and spill gallons of blood, which may leave some hardcore horror fans a little underwhelmed.
Alienation, and being out of step with reality is the primary dramatic conceit, as we follow Sarah’s slow burning descent into the depths of her psyche, which is played with a frazzled nuance and determination by Julia Sarah Jones, who often disappears into her over-sized white hoodie. Sarah is direct and only says what she has to say to push the story forward, her emotional turmoil is conveyed through lingering close-ups, which effectively fill in the brooding narrative gaps. Yes, there’s a love story too. Sarah and sleep technician Jeremy (Landon Liboiron), break all the rules for a romantic tryst that ends in vampirism… Yes, it’s a bit of a head scratching moment, and one you can’t Google your way out of.
Big brain energy, is a requirement with Come True. You can piece together Burns’s version of the film by picking up on the visual clues he leaves onscreen. Or you can make up your own version of the film by using the pulsing nightmarish fragments swirling in Sarah’s minds eye. Or you can throw up your hands and say nothing makes sense at all, such is the ambiguity of the final twist. I chose the second option, truth be told. It worked for me and with a few more repeat viewings, who knows maybe I’ll get to the bottom of Sarah’s bad dream…