Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our inscrutable whims. This week: One more time, we’re accounting for our sins of omission and looking back on the best movies of 2021 we didn’t review.
When a horror film really gets you, it stays with you; a good scare can last a lifetime, lingering in the subconscious and waiting for the exact right biochemical set of circumstances to send it rushing back to you. Come True is a horror film that gets the viewer, in multiple respects: It’s a shifting nightmare that messes with the audience’s sense of security, but also a thriller that understands what horror fans have been looking for—something new that might trigger something old, an ancient and visceral response locked deep in the brain, in the collective experience of humanity.
Sarah (Julia Stone) is a student, essentially homeless, who takes shelter on playgrounds or at friends’ houses. Returns to her parents’ home are always timed to avoid seeing them, and she dodges text messages and concerned calls with an alarming urgency. All of this scans as a warning sign in the shape of Laura Palmer. What Sarah wants is a place to crash in peace, and she finds it in a university sleep study. From here, her nights are all helpful assistants with clipboards, CRT displays, a muted color palette, chilly exteriors, and renegade scientists with healthy government funding. And then something happens that starts threatening her boundaries. All of them.
Come True works with the same raw materials as classics of mind fuck cinema like The Beyond, Videodrome, the first three Elm Streets, The Cell, and Altered States. What it builds from them is different. The opening credits prepare you for the journey ahead with analogue images rendered on a monitor, pixels coalescing into forms just a tad slower than the brain can organize them. Before the film has even begun, we learn to fear that process—to feel deeply uneasy about the way time is filtered through some form of digital intermediary, regardless of what the data is organizing itself into. The score, jagged and pulsating, propels the viewer into uncertain space.
Nightmares, in this film’s world, are linear pathways into unmappable spaces—stairways, halls, museum exhibits in other realms that cannot possibly exist, shadowy figures with pinpoint eyes. Always, there’s the dread of the disconnect between waking life and dream. Director/cowriter Anthony Scott Burns has conceived and executed a masterful nightmare that at times works like a strong hallucinogen. Come True takes big swings, and many of them connect. There is, for example, a sex scene of Munich-level ridiculousness that morphs into something unspeakably, paralyzingly scary.
The film is not a puzzle waiting to be solved. It’s irreconcilable, though never incoherent. It springs its trap like one of those plants that patiently awaits a fly or tiny mouse, then all of a sudden you’re caught and already being digested. Horror fans seeking simpler pleasures might (and have) called it pretentious—a word sometimes hurled by those who don’t want to do the work. To the list of reasons something might suck, let’s not add ambition. Come True has loads of it, which is one reason it already feels like one of the great genre films of not just this year but the new century.
Availability: Come True is currently streaming on Hulu. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.