Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), a teenage runaway plagued with terrifying nightmares, signs up for a university sleep study to avoid living on the streets. There, she finds an unexpected friend and confidant in Jeremy (Landon Liboiron), the scientist overseeing the study. But there’s something strange about the proceedings, and being under observation seems to make Sarah’s disturbing dreams even worse. As the darkness closes in, it becomes clear that she has unknowingly become the conduit to a horrifying new discovery…
A Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 Review
Horror films that focus on characters’ nightmares often go the jumpscare route, relying heavily on sudden movements and loud music stings to give their audience a fright. Director Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True largely goes the opposite direction—playing out like an understated, slow-burn nightmare that gradually unsettles before going in for the kill.
The film establishes a dreamlike atmosphere early on, submerging characters in blue and purple-toned landscapes that convey the feeling of being caught somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. It’s a powerful way to put viewers in Sarah’s shoes as she sleepwalks through her endless twilight, simultaneously yearning for sleep and fearing what will happen when she dozes off. Stone strikes this balance beautifully, channelling such vulnerability and exhausted desperation that it’s impossible not to feel for Sarah. The rhythmic pacing and synth-heavy score further lull us into a trancelike state right along with her, leaving us watching, powerless, as she slowly descends into the halls of her nightmares again and again.
The imagery in those nightmares is often deeply unnerving, with bodies hanging in the air and shapes moving in the shadows, glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. It’s all a little off-kilter, a little primal, and gone before you can analyze it too deeply, perfectly recreating the hazy and fleeting nature of dream logic. But like most nightmares, one image always remains burned behind your eyelids long after the rest have faded, and this image seems to come into sharper focus the longer the film goes on.
Watching characters experience a nightmare like this forms the film’s most frightening scene. It’s impressively minimalist—just two people sitting on their beds dreaming that something is in the corner of the room—but Burns ratchets up the tension magnificently, tapping into that helpless terror we’ve all experienced of being unable to wake up from a particularly bad dream.
The film hits another terrifying peak as it nears its climax—which is what makes the ending itself such a letdown. While it’s high-concept implications may leave some viewers satisfied (even if it does make much of the preceding narrative somewhat superfluous), there’s a definite sense that the film thought it was being clever. In reality, it comes across as pulling a fast one to get out of actually explaining anything. Which is a shame, because the script left so much to the imagination already that it may not have needed to explain itself at all.
Despite a disappointing conclusion, Come True is a dream disguised as a nightmare—as hypnotic as it is unsettling, and strangely lovely amidst all the fear. Watch it in the dark and let it cast its somnolent spell over you before raising the hairs on the back of your neck.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)