April 3, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi drama “Come True” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A runaway teen enrolls a university’s mysterious sleep study and finds out that she could be part of a dangerous experiment.
Culture Audience: “Come True” will appeal primarily to people who like atmospheric sci-fi that is deliberately ambiguous until toward the end of the story.
“Come True” is the type of sci-fi movie where the movie revolves around experiments that you know immediately aren’t what they first appear to be, but the movie takes its time to reveal the true meaning of what’s supposed to be happening. With its aqua-tinted scenes and dreamlike stylings, “Come True” has an otherworldly feel, but the story takes place on Earth, in an unnamed Canadian city. It’s the type of movie that is best enjoyed if people don’t mind if the story doesn’t really explain what’s going until the last third of the film.
Written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns, “Come True” definitely has influences from David Cronenberg, a filmmaker who has a penchant for sci-fi/horror stories that make Earth look disarmingly normal and futuristically dangerous at the same time. According to the “Come True” production notes, there were only five people on the film’s on-set production crew (about seven times smaller than the movie’s cast), and the results are very impressive with the movie’s visual style.
Less impressive is the often-muddled storytelling that tends to be a little repetitive until things become much clearer toward the end of the movie. The movie’s protagonist is 18-year-old Sarah Dunn (played by Julia Sarah Stone), a rebellious student who’s a misfit and loner at her high school. Sarah keeps having dreams where she sees a mysterious tall and faceless creature that resembles Slenderman.
As a result of these nightmares, Sarah has had a hard time sleeping at night. In an early scene in the movie, she’s dozed off in class and has another nightmare and wakes up startled. The other students notice and start to laugh, while a student in the class calls Sarah a “freak,” and Sarah tells the bully to “fuck off.” Sarah’s home life is barely shown (her parents are irrelevant to the story), because the next thing you know, Sarah runs away from home with only her bike and a few basic possessions. She sleeps in a park and somehow doesn’t get in trouble for loitering or vagrancy.
It’s never really shown how Sarah gets her meals as a runaway, but something comes along where she doesn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, at least temporarily. A friend of Sarah’s named Zoe (played by Tedra Rogers) tells Sarah about a local university that’s doing a two-month sleep study where the participants have to sleep in the study center. During an interview with a sleep study staffer in her 20s named Anita (played by Carlee Ryski), Sarah says that she drinks five to six cups of coffee a day and that she used to sleepwalk when she was a kid.
Sarah is accepted into the study, and she has a roommate in her 20s named Emily (played by Caroline Buzanko), who doesn’t interact much with Sarah. The head of the sleep study is Dr. Meyer (played by Christopher Heatherington), a meticulous and intellectual type in his 60s. Anita and a man in his 20s named Lyle (played by John Tasker) are among the assistants who work closely with Dr. Meyer.
One day, Sarah is in a bookstore when she sees a bearded man in his late 20s, wearing glasses and a trenchcoat, who seems to be following her. They make eye contact and she assumes he’s just a random creep and manages to slip out of his sight. Later that evening, Sarah and Zoe go to a movie theater to watch the 1968 classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” And Sarah sees the same man in the movie theater, and he’s sitting not too far from Sarah and Zoe. Sarah tells Zoe about seeing this man earlier, because she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.
It’s not. It turns out that his name is Jeremy, nicknamed Riff (played by Landon Liboiron), and he’s part of Dr. Meyer’s team. Why was he following Sarah? He won’t say, but Sarah eventually meets him at the sleep study center. She’s annoyed with Riff because she doesn’t know why he was stalking her, but he makes an attempt to be nice to Sarah, who has her reservations about him.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions that Sarah has during the study. When she asks the sleep study staffers something basic, such as, “What are you studying?,” she usually gets this answer: “I can’t tell you that.” After a while, it becomes repetitive and frustrating for Sarah, as it will be for viewers of this movie.
Sarah’s dreams start to get worse until she wakes up with panic attacks and minor convulsions. At one point in the movie, her left eye starts to bleed, so she has to wear an eye patch. And in an unexpected incident, Sarah passes out in a laundromat.
One day, Sarah finds out that her roommate Emily has disappeared with no goodbye. When Sarah asks about Emily, Sarah is told that Emily dropped out of the study. Anita tells Sarah that it’s fairly common for people to not complete these types of studies because they want to go back to sleeping in their own homes.
Gradually, it becomes apparent that Riff is starting to become attracted to Sarah. It’s a little creepy, because although Sarah is legally an adult, she looks like she’s about 15, and Riff is in his late 20s. The movie doesn’t acknowledge the breach of ethics of someone conducting a scientific study who then gets romantically involved with a study subject and how that could compromise any data gathered.
Because it takes to so long for the movie to get to a meaningful explanation of what the real reason is for the sleep study, a great deal of “Come True” involves a lot of hallucinogenic imagery of what Sarah is experiencing in these dreams. These visuals will either keep people interested or it will bore people who want the mystery to be solved at a much quicker pace.
The music of “Come True” was composed by electro-pop duo Electric Youth and writer/director Burns under his musical alias Pilotpriest. (Electric Youth’s song “Modern Fears” is featured prominently in the film, and it sums up the atmosphere that “Come True” is trying to convey.) The music and visual effects greatly enhance the mystical haze of questionable reality that permeates throughout the movie.
Stone’s performance as Sarah makes her a believable character, but the movie skimps on details about Sarah’s interests and life goals, because so much of what viewers see of Sarah consists of her dreams/nightmares. The last 20 minutes of the film are a bit rushed when the mystery of the sleep study is revealed. But the ride getting there is fairly captivating for those who have the patience to find out what happens in the end.
IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Come True” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021.