Written by: Adam Vaughn | March 11th, 2021
Come True (Anthony Scott Burns, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Once in a while, a director will take the sci-fi/horror subgenre in an experimental direction, relying less on the traditional conventions of science fiction and horror and instead trying new narrative conventions and aesthetics to tell their story. The latest film from Anthony Scott Burns (Our House) experiments with some truly fascinating visual elements. I am instantly reminded of the terrific artwork from Playdead’s Limbo and Inside, two acclaimed video games whose use of shadows and shapes to create environments rings eerie and suspenseful. While Come True comes with a highly effective visual aesthetic, all the while creating compelling, subtle moments of anticipation, the film overall becomes vague and disinteresting through its writing, and leads us (painstakingly slowly) to an ending that feels uninspired and random.
Come True tells the story of Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone, Honey Bee), a young teenage runaway looking for a sense of purpose, who enlists in a scientific experiment that examines and monitors dreams. As Sarah begins volunteering for the program, she realizes that not all is what it seems, as mysterious and dangerous events began to occur to her and to the other volunteer patients. Can Sarah discover, and more so overcome, the secrets to the sleep experiments, and the deadly entity that surrounds them?
The film’s strongest moments are when we expressionistically dive into Sarah’s dreams, which are always focused on a dark, shadow figure. The slow pace through the nightmares, the intriguing and ghastly figures that embody the setting of the dreams, and the horrid black-and-white imagery create a chilling atmosphere, without ever truly utilizing a cheap jump scare or forced sense of fear. Even when sight and sound are used to create a surprise, it feels motivated and natural (or being a nightmare, unnaturally natural). While some of this attention to detail lies in the real-world settings of the film, most of the satisfying mise-en-scène comes from the nightmare scenes.
The rest of Come True tends to be a bit of a snoozeville experience. Various scenes that could have had a lot quicker pace instead take their time to progress, making it difficult to concentrate on the somewhat unexplained plot development. The story starts to become less and less original as it progresses, becoming a direct mixture of Inception and Nightmare on Elm Street, but seemingly going nowhere fast. And then, of course, we get to the conclusion of the film: a completely left-field concept introduced with no prior inspiration or explanation, leaving a modern audience more confused than intrigued, and instantly raising more questions rather than tying up the loose ends of the story.
Come True certainly excels as a visual exercise, and I fully appreciate the design elements. As a whole, however, itfeels misguided in places, and in others it takes director Burns forever to get to some of the most miniscule plot points. Most of the supporting actors are limited by this slow roll, and the result is an inherently boring real world in contrast to the interesting and compelling nightmares. Overall, Come True owes itself a return to the writing board, so as to complement its potential as a visual masterpiece.