Come True begins with the promise of a bleak science fiction film. We don’t know much about Sarah Dunn (Julia Sarah Stone), an 18 year old runaway who sleeps on playground slides and at friends’ houses until she enters a sleep study. We can’t be sure why she’s sleeping outside, or what her life was like before the sleep study — all we really know is that she doesn’t sleep well, and that her dreams are often disturbing.
While Come True keeps a muted, dreary blue and sleepy tone throughout, Sarah’s dreams are even bleaker than her world. Sarah dreams of alien worlds, with shadowy figures and sketchy tunnels; like a cross between a Caspar David Freidrich painting and something out of Prometheus or Annihilation.
When Sarah enters the sleep study, in a large brutalist building (think of the buildings in 1990’s Total Recall), she’s eager to be getting paid just to sleep – and to have a place to sleep. She tells them she drinks 3-6 cups of coffee a day; she does have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep; she’s never been diagnosed with any sleeping conditions but she did sleepwalk as a kid.
While she answers all the questions that are asked of her, the staff of the sleep study won’t answer hers. Why are there 2 women and 4 men? What are they studying? Despite the ominous lack of transparency, Sarah continues on with the study.
The director of the study, scientist Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington), does explain a bit about what they’re studying to his fellow scientists, which considering the amount of times the word hypnagogic was said, is a helpful refresher on the basics of the sleep cycle.
It’s the most explanation we’ll get in most of Come True; the story is often just as mysterious as the dreams being studied. Dr. Meyer seems like an interesting and possibly menacing character; despite the weight given his arrival early on in the film, we don’t see much of him.
When Sarah meets a man in a bookstore, he gives a glowing endorsement of the Philip K. Dick book she’s holding (it’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale). Later on, she realizes that the man is one of the scientists at the sleep study (and he’s got a Terminator poster in his office — the subtle throwbacks to other genre-defining works are endless). The scientist, named Jeremy (Landon Liboiron) but called “Riff’ by his coworkers, has been keeping a close eye on Sarah.
Sarah’s horrified to discover that Riff had been following her, and even more aghast when he shows her what exactly is being studied. After a particularly fitful nightmare, Sarah runs away from the sleep study, and Riff, who’s fixation on her is creepy from their first encounter on, runs after her.
The film here departs from science-fiction and enters horror film territory. The participants in the study are all experiencing sleep paralysis and seeing the same shadowy figures with glowing eyes that Sarah sees, and the scientists are both excited and scared at what they’re discovering.
Sarah becomes more distressed and agitated as the film progresses. Despite this, and even though she’s called Riff a nerd multiple times and doesn’t seem to like him very much, a romance develops between the two of them. It’s entirely unrealistic and unnecessary, and it’s uncomfortable; we know she’s 18 (she literally tells him this shortly before hooking up with him) and he’s possibly as much as twice her age.
Julia Sarah Stone’s performance is one of the highlights of Come True. Despite the fact that we don’t get to know much about Sarah or her motivations, we do get to know her fairly well through her reactions and vulnerability. Stone’s expressiveness lends to a captivating on-screen presence; this in contrast with Landon Liboiron, who is the on-screen equivalent of a weak handshake (as if we needed another reason for Sarah and Riffs’ “romance” to be nonsensical).
Writer and director Anthony Scott Burns expertly blends dreams and reality as scenes cut between dreams and the waking world. The “shadow men” in the film are haunting, and despite the fact that we know they’re imaginary, they feel as real as the rest of the cast. Burns is also responsible for the films excellent score (as PIlotpriest), along with Electric Youth.
While sometimes the blend of science-fiction and horror makes for the best genre-blend out there, Come True loses some of it’s intrigue as we move away from the science of dreams and into the horror of nightmares. While parts of the film hint at exploring our basest and most unifying fears, Come True is not interested in finding answers or further probing at the scientists’ discoveries. This lack of clarification will frustrate some, and make others want to re-visit the film for more viewings.
The very end of Come True brings back the suspense felt at the beginning of the film, as Sarah nears the end of her journey. The unexpected twists at the end of the film will be divisive; some may find the ending ridiculous, and others will want to watch the film from the beginning again to look for clues. Just be sure not to watch this right before falling asleep.
Come True premieres in theaters and on demand March 12
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