Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writer and Director: Anthony Scott Burns

Sleek, stylish and thought-provoking, Come True tells the story of teenage runaway, Sarah.

We first meet her sleeping rough in a park. She wakes up from a bad dream, rallies herself and heads off on her bike. She pedals through a suburban street and waits. A woman leaves the house that Sarah is watching – we assume this is her mother. Sarah creeps into the house, showers and grabs some food.

The teenager (played by Julia Sarah Stone) is living day to day. She manages to secure a bed for the night, offered by her best friend Zoe, but this isn’t a permanent solution. While killing time in a local coffee shop, Sarah finds an advert asking for volunteers to participate in a sleep study.

Arriving at the lab, Sarah’s history of sleep-walking and frequent nightmares – being haunted by shadowy, monolithic figures – interest the team. Sarah is curious about what they are studying or hoping to find. The warm, friendly tone of lab assistant Anita (Carlee Ryski) instantly changes. No, Sarah cannot be told the reason for the study.

Come True develops its narrative slowly and carefully, as we follow Sarah into this scientific world. She is wired up to monitors and the lab team examine the footage. Sarah’s brain activity – known physiological responses to sleep – veer into different images. We see faces, figures. The figures of Sarah’s nightmares. The team, assembled by Doctor Meyer (Christopher Heatherington), excitedly begin to realise their experiment is working. But as Sarah’s waking life becomes plagued with these images, causing her to have panic attacks, the question is asked. Has the experiment crossed ethical lines? Are there some things we aren’t meant to see?

As the film moves into its second half, Come True appears to lack the courage of its convictions. Starting off as a clear-headed thriller, the film then follows Sarah’s descent from reality into the world of her nightmares. But as the story becomes more frantically paced, we lose our connection with the characters. The placing of plot points for us to discover, done so well in the earlier part of the film, completely unravels. While this is meant to illustrate Sarah’s mind dislocating from the real world, the sudden shift into horror leaves too much of the narrative unresolved. We never, for example, find out why Sarah has run away from home. Even the questions asked about the role of ethics in science, are left unexplored.

It’s all the more disappointing as Come True makes such a promising start. The look of the film (with direction and cinematography from Anthony Scott Burns) shot in cool tones with glowing screens and hints of artificial light against a groping, creeping darkness, gives the film a strong sense of visual identity. It builds atmosphere from the very first scene.

It is this initial confidence that sets our level of expectation for the film. The performances are also impressive. The lab staff, treading a fine line between authority and experimentation, create a steady build of tension as we try to discern exactly what it is they’re looking for. As Doctor Meyer, Christopher Heatherington is suitably enigmatic. In the lead role, Julia Sarah Stone is excellent. As Sarah, she gives us layers of both emotional and physical vulnerability. The raw, exposed sensibility is thoughtful and well observed.

On paper, there is much in Come True to recommend it. This is an intelligent film with good ideas. What it needed was a further edit that could have pulled Come True into a more coherent form. Instead, this is a film of disparate parts, working at odds with each other. While it raises interesting questions, Come True never quite lives up to its full potential.

Available on Digital Download from 15 March 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

A film of two halves

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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