The intersection of science fiction and horror is something of a sweet spot for me. Maybe it’s the combination of the high-brow (in theory) place science fiction holds in our minds with the grimy, dimly lit places where horror sits in our souls that makes it feel like it all blends together so perfectly. The new Canadian-made outing Come True, from writer/director Anthony Scott Burns (Our House), is a near-perfect melding of these two genres that results in a scientific examination of our dreams and nightmares colliding headfirst into a more visceral look at what occupies the darkest recesses of our sleeping mind.
The film centers on 18-year-old Sarah (a truly layered and powerful performance by Julia Sarah Stone) as a runaway teen, living on the street (but not too far from her home, which she breaks into when she needs supplies and a bath) and having bad dreams. We never find out exactly why Sarah feels that she can’t remain at home, allowing our imaginations to suspect the worst. On the campus of her school, she discovers an announcement about a sleep study, which she immediately signs up for—it seems like the perfect chance to sleep inside, in a presumably safe environment, and get paid for the privilege.
She and a small group of men and women show up for the study and are placed in full-body sensor suit (including a headpiece that we assume measures brain activity) and allowed to sleep. What we soon realize is that the university researchers, led by a Cronenberg-looking Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington), have devised a system that allows them to see what the subjects are dreaming about. The technology looks fairly retro (which is enhanced by an electronic score, courtesy of the filmmaker—using his Pilotpriest alias—and Electric Youth), and the resulting images are a little fuzzy. But they’re clear enough to see that Sarah has a recurring dream about slowly moving through a hallway until she spots a dark, shadowy figure with glowing eyes, who may be stalking her or drawing her into something. The figure is similar to the one people often see during sleep paralysis, and while it rarely acts aggressively toward her, she does end up waking up horrified at its presence.
And then a pattern emerges in all of the subjects, in which they all not only see versions of the same figure but at some point, we begin to realize they are seeing the same figure doing the same things in their collective nightmares. And sometimes the security cameras in the room reveal the figure in the rooms with them as they sleep, leaving us the impression that these images were never meant to be seen by anyone but the dreamers. By pulling them out for public consumption, a much more twisted phenomenon is being unleashed.
Come True (as in “dreams come true”) is not interested in jump scares or messy violence. Its primary goal is a sustained, pervasive creeping dread that works its way into your bones and gives you prolonged chills. Although it partly takes place in a dream landscape, this is about as far from A Nightmare on Elm Street scenario as you could get. These strange entities seem born from within us, and it doesn’t take long for the idea to freak us out that something we might dream up could come to life and terrify us in the real world or even in our sleeping state.
Stone is absolutely perfect in this role as a young woman who basically has to decide what part of her life is scarier—home or this research. And since her visions of this figure seemed to trigger this entire experience, the researchers don’t want her to drop out. There’s even a strange but harmless member of the research team, Jeremy (Landon Liboiron), who effectively assigns himself as Sarah’s protector. Something about Come True just hit me in the right place at the right time. It’s smart, simple and relentlessly freaky, and it’s one of my favorite horror works of the last year.
The film is now available in select theaters and via VOD.
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