Anyone who thinks the auteur theory is a myth likely have not reckoned with films like Come True, for which Anthony Scott Burns works as director, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer, and editor. It is a tremendous and singular effort in filmmaking, with enormously stylish and provocative results. Opinions are genuinely going to vary on this one, depending on your taste and patience. Personally, I think it is a mini-masterpiece of rising tension and creeping dread.
Sarah Dunne (Julia Sarah Stone) is a teenage runaway who sleeps in a park before sneaking into her mother’s home to steal food and take a shower. Plagued by unsettling nightmares and needing money, she signs up to a university sleep study – only to discover not only is the study not what she assumed it was, but that one of the study leaders (Landon Liboiron) may be stalking her.
I find dreams to be one of the most difficult things for cinema to adapt. They have been popular fodder for science fiction and horror cinema for many years, but rarely do filmmakers capture the uneasy atmosphere, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and non sequiturs that seem to typify the genuine article. To do embrace these features and tell a coherent story is even harder. To my mind Sion Sono’s 2015 film Tag is the best attempt at this I have seen. Burns’ Come True is easily a very close second. It is not simply Sarah’s nightmares of twisted bodies and endless hallways, it is the overall aesthetic of the film in general. Stylised camera angles and steely filters cannot help but remind one of Michael Mann and James Cameron. The collision of human bodies and technology reflect David Cronenberg. It is not a surprise to see Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) listed among the film’s producers. More than anything else, the slow and purposeful movement through the film feels remarkably similar to David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 cult favourite It Follows – as does Burns’ effective synth score. Everything feels slightly unreal. The sense of rising dread is palpable.
Julie Sarah Stone is absolutely excellent as Sarah. Much of the film comes from her point of view, yet a purposefully obfuscated screenplay robs the audience of context. She suffers night terrors, but we are not told why. She is actively avoiding her own family and home, and again Burns leaves us in the dark as to what led to her predicament. It is down to Stone to make such a vaguely-defined protagonist feel real. It is a captivating performance.
Landon Liboiron plays researcher-come-stalker Jeremy like an athlete on a tightrope. Too likeable, and his stalking behaviour would seem condoned by the film. Too threatening, and his role in the story would become unwatchable. Instead he manages a queasy middle-ground, all too recognisable from real life.
Burns’ screenplay, which is based on a story by Daniel Weissenberger, draws heavily on Carl Jung’s dream theory to form both plot and content. Why an understanding of Jung’s basic claims certainly allows a clearer reading of the film, its primal horrors remain bleakly effective for general viewers. The narrative shifts in increasingly odd ways as it goes, and the film’s third act seems extraordinarily divisive. The preceding two, however, are one outstanding ride – and if you find the conclusion to your tastes, this is one immensely satisfying head-trip.
Come True is now available to rent on digital in Australia and New Zealand.