Directed by: Anthony Scott Burns. Starring: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Carlee Ryski. Runtime: 1h 43 min. Released: This film had its World Premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 30, 2020.
Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True is the type of Canadian film that makes me love Canadian stories and Canadian horror. To spoil the plot would be a disservice, but it follows Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), an 18-year-old woman who spends her nights sleeping on a playground slide to escape a bad home life. She’s plagued by nightmares, is sleeping awfully and then a new opportunity shows up: An advertisement for a two-month sleep lab that pays $12 per hour. When she enters this sleep study and the scientists start to observe, that’s where the film enters a realm of dark sci-fi horror.
When someone thinks of hard Canadian sci-fi horror, they’ll think David Cronenberg. Now I’ll think of Anthony Scott Burns, too, and it’s so refreshing to see a new voice and make a great sci-fi horror that can rival that big name. The ambition within this story could be disastrous in the wrong hands but Burns, who writes, directs, edits and does the cinematography, handles this so well.
I get excited when I love the concept to a film and the execution meets expectations. It’s fascinating learning about the sleep study and what they’re observing and how psychology is incorporated into the film, as we dig deeper into Sarah’s dreams and learn about a shared fear. I also find the science behind dreams totally fascinating; and a scene where the head doctor, Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington) monologues about what stages of sleep everyone is entering, I was putty in the film’s hands.
The score, by Electric Youth (who also get a “music by” credit), director Anthony Scott Burns and Pilotpriest, is one of the most memorable I’ve heard this year. It’s hard to ignore this score as complements the story, emotions and horror so well. It’s at its finest near the end where there’s not as much dialogue, and the music’s great when Julia Sarah Stone simply reacts to images on a monitor, commanding a scene. Stone sells everything about her performance – from looking like she could fall asleep any moment, to the emotional aspect of the film of her finding a place to stay.
“You have no idea how good this feels to be in a bed, a house,” she says to her friend Zoe (Tedra Rogers) when she sleeps at her house. This finding a sense of security and belonging brings a surprising poignancy that I loved. A bed’s something that can be taken for granted, and Scott Burns depicts beautifully and authentically. It is also heartwarming seeing Sarah’s change in personality and attitude after her first sleep in the study.
Of course, the horror soon comes and Stone plays those parts so well. For the character, we need to know all we know about her and she adapts to situations in flow. It’s fascinating to watch her grow through her connection with Riff (Landon Liboiron), a scientist in the study. This aspect brings compelling drama.
About Liboiron, he’s good as this character and it’s cool learning about him and how he and Sarah have similarities. This is my favourite performance by Liboiron so far in the few films (Altitude, Truth or Dare) and TV shows (Hemlock Grove) I’ve seen him in, and he impressively manages to look different in every single one of those projects.
Sarah works as a main example of what plagues us psychologically when we’re at our most vulnerable; while we sleep. That made the character more fascinating. About the dream themselves, I expected Sarah to just have strange dreams and we’d see her wandering through these bizarre dreams as we learn about her backstory. Scott Burns completely subverts these expectations: He creates haunting dream-scapes each time. We watch these dreams from Sarah’s POV as she “sleepwalks” down a hallway, eerie statues on either side.
There’s a tension waiting for a jump scare that rarely comes, as the scenes smartly relies on sound and mood. The dreams are unique tableaus every sleep cycle; visually different from each other with tiny details. These scenes provoke such a disturbing relaxation, that there are some effective scares that get under your skin, though the true terror of this film lies within what manifests from these dreams.
I loved the use of colours here and Scott Burns’ cinematography, too. He has such a cool visual style that truly makes this film memorable, and it just feels like such a fresh way to depict dreams that makes me love this more. He creates an enthralling, moody horror pic that I was enamored by. It’s driven by its characters and situation, and the pacing is great, separated by small title cards. In Scream, there’s a 42-minute party scene that finishes the film; and I think Come True’s pacing in the finale taking place over one night could rival that.
There are questions here I had in the third act that made me think the film was slipping, but there’s an astonishing moment at the end that made none of it matter. It’s the kind-of goosebump-inducing ending that will ignite conversation, whether you love or hate the film. Perhaps it’s enough to create something special here with this film and make it a cult favourite, and that’s something I hope will Come True.