Dreams are the sleeping routine for most of humanity. One takes a physical rest from the world and from their fears and desires, only to encounter these same elements of existence in magnified or softened versions. Filmmakers have explored dreams in various versions and using various strategies. Some of them envision dreams as the paradise of the psyche, others prefer to engage in the representations of nightmares, or suffocating experiences full of symbolism and self-reflection.
Like fragments of Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, Keiichiro Toyama's 'Silent Hill' games and a dozen other sci-fi and horror films melded by imperfect memory into an unstable whole, writer/director Anthony Scott Burns' 'Come True' follows a dream logic that's all the more persuasive for being impossible to follow entirely.
Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) is a teenage runaway, sleeping in playgrounds in public parks and plagued by terrifying nightmares of dark tunnels and shadowy figures. At school, she's zonking out at her desk and being teased by her classmates. She signs up for a university sleep study to avoid living on the streets. At the clinic, Sarah makes a friend in Jeremy (Landon Liboiron, 'Truth or Dare'), the scientist overseeing the study. She's soon strapped into a high-tech 'Flatliners'-style getup, bristling with wires, so that the assembled boffins can view her dreams. These appear on their video monitors as flickering black-and-white images, laced with static.
Sarah feels better after her first few treatments. But there's something strange about the proceedings, and being under observation gradually begins to make her disturbing dreams even worse.
The baddies in 'Come True' are classic sleep paralysis demons, bright-eyed figures of pure shadow who either stand observing from a corner of the room or slowly approach the paralysed victims and hover menacingly over them. They recall Rodney Ascher's documentary 'The Nightmare', which depicted bad dreams as being something like a movie created by an individual's brain, tailor-made to scare the living shit out of them. The vague nature of the dream creatures and the brooding ambiguity also reminded me of Robert Harmon's underrated 'They', about a group of four childhood friends experiencing night terrors.
The look of the film is an endless twilight of washed-out blues and greys (even Julia Sarah Stone, with her pale skin, slim frame and bleached hair, looks like she's fading away) accompanied by moodily escalating synths from Electric Youth and Pilotpriest. Scott Burns (who also handles the film's cinematography) uses a lot of symmetry to make his shots feel like you're watching a carefully constructed reality, organising the elements in his frame so that the most important thing is smack in the middle. While the patients in the clinic are asleep, a single-take shot glides through their smooth, malevolent dreamscapes, eventually leading us to monsters who feel both fresh and ominously familiar.
While the patients in the clinic are asleep, a single take shot glides through their smooth, malevolent dreamscapes, eventually leading us to monsters who feel both fresh and ominously familiar.
Admittedly, 'Come True' is more surface than substance (there is a disappointing detour into 'Inception'-lite territory late in the piece), but those surfaces are gleamingly polished enough to make for a hypnotic experiment that goes beyond genre pastiche or art-school wankery to seem formally daring. The film moves at a syrupy pace that feels as sleepy as its main character, but throughout it has the inexorable pull of an unshakable nightmare. There's also a suggestion of J-horror, the alienating, amorphous, frequently technophobic Asian horror cinema which relies on suggestion and atmosphere, rather than the gutbucket gore of American slasher flicks. That Japanese influence even extends to Sarah rocking an oversized anime-style eye patch late in the piece.
The human brain, Anthony Scott Burns suggests, is the ultimate horror movie director, and the sleep paralysis demons of 'Come True' are just an extreme form of the standard-issue nightmares we all unwillingly create on a regular basis. It's one thing to be tormented. It's another thing to face the grim reality that you're tormenting yourself.