Monday, December 4, 2023

In Your Dreams

Last year, I participated in an overnight sleep study to identify some of my nighttime issues. It. Was. Weird.

Let me set the stage:

It's 10PM. You show up to a hospital that makes the setting of Halloween II look like a bustling ER circa NBC's Must See TV era. There's a handwritten piece of paper taped to a door reading "Sleep Study Patients This Way." You accept the fact that you're actually following a sign to your imminent death, but as long as your insurance is paying, it seems worth a try.

A single employee (seemingly the only one IN this facility) guides you down a wing and opens a door, revealing a miniature Holiday Inn just SITTING across a lab. The nice, hopefully non-homicidal nurse then proceeds to connect 36 wires to various parts of your body, pausing at wire 20 to confirm that you don't need to use the restroom. You then roll into bed carefully, as half of your entire being and a whole chunk of your glue-filled head is now tethered on the left side to a box that looks only slightly more professional than the Lite Brite machine from your childhood.

The nurse leaves, cheerfully announcing that she'll just be a few rooms away "watching."


As the lights go off, the nurse's voice walks you through some eyeball exercises in complete darkness. You now know what eyeball exercises feel like.You're then left to fall asleep which is of course VERY EASY considering your situation and the fact that your body is literally wired.

At 5AM, the same voice gently tells you to get your ass out of bed. The nurse returns to help remove the 107 wires (because they have definitely multiplied overnight), glue still deeply embedded in your head. You shuffle out of the hospital knowing you look like someone who not only has trouble falling asleep, but who has probably also battled an army of angry robot cats when trying. It's quite a sight for the rest of the people at the bagel shop, but you're hungry and sure no one here knows you. You take comfort in knowing you have probably terrified a child or two, just as those dreadful 14 seconds of action in the Superman III climax destroyed your own youth.

Two weeks later, you are issued a mostly insurance-funded CPAP machine. Life actually gets a lot better.

Anyway, what are we here to do? Talk about horror movies of course! Wasn't that obvious?

Quick Plot: Sarah is a student suffering from some kind of sleep disorder. She spends most of her nights grabbing a few z's on a park slide before sneaking back home to grab a hot shower right after her estranged mother leaves the house. When she spots an ad for a local sleep study, Sarah jumps at the chance to earn some cash and a more comfortable bed that isn't made of urine-soaked aluminum.

The first night goes well, but Sarah is (rightfully) unsettled when she discovers one of the scientists, Riff, is following her outside (AND recommending Philip K. Dick novels, no less). She suffers a severe panic attack during a morning debriefing where Anita, the sleep study supervisor, shows her a picture of a man that appears regularly in her mysterious dreams.

Sarah demands an explanation from Riff, who reluctantly reveals his team's goal: to capture the images we experience only in dreams.

I realize how old I sound when I say this (note: this coming from the same 40something who just admitted her CPAP prescription), but I think Come True is what the kids today call a "vibe". Cowriter/director Anthony Scott Burns is vague on the details of his and Daniel Weissenberger's script. We don't know much about Sarah or the source of her troubles, but actress Julia Sarah Stone is compelling enough that we easily follow her journey and wish her the best. We're along for the ride even when we have no idea where it's heading.

Come True has an incredibly distinctive tone. The electronic score does heavy lifting in situating the mood, while blue-hued lighting seems to tint every scene to keep us at a distance. It's all clearly very deliberate on Burns' end, and it does, in SOME way, help us sort through things with the film's twist reveal. More importantly, it's pretty cool.

(again: 41-year-old CPAP user speaking)

That being said, it's also easy to feel frustrated by Come True. Much like Bad Things (ANOTHER CPAP-Y REFERENCE!), this is a film that is deliberate in being opaque. Maybe there's a rosetta stone that someone on their fifth viewing might unlock to reassemble the details for a clear narrative, but to me, it seems clear that Come True doesn't expect that of its audience. It wants to take you on a dream, accepting that the very nature of such a trip means it doesn't have to make sense. If that's the kind of thing that bothers you, stay away.

High Points
Aforementioned performance by Stone, who has to keep us caring even when we have no idea what to care about

Low Points
The more I think about Come True's final beat, the more frustrated I become

Lessons Learned
Insomniacs are not vulnerable to magical nerd charms

The ethics of sleep study doctor/patient relationships are, to say the least, muddy

There's an untapped market in the shoe industry for sleepwalking footware

I wasn't completely satisfied by Come True, and I can see it leaving a lot of its audience in a far more annoyed state than me. But as long as you go in expecting more mood than narrative, you'll likely walk away with some appreciation for the overall effect.


  1. So much to say!

    1, My dad was prescribed a CPAP machine 15 years ago or so and it was the first time I've heard of them. Now they're ubiquitous. It's a good time to be in the CPAP business, that's for sure.

    2, thanks for sharing your personal experience with the sleep study. I've always been curious what it's like, for a normal person, in reality.

    3, I don't know what that scene in Superman 3 you're referencing is but I love the pic of the screaming woman with metal on her face in a tangle of jagged metal debris. I'm going to have to find that scene later today (I won't bother trying to watch the entire film because I'm confident it's not my thing).

    4, now to the film you're reviewing! I was so excited to see this film based on its poster and trailer, then it came out and...I felt the same as you. Just like we talked about recently, Come True is part of this wave of new films that happily doesn't worry about details or fully making sense. I think frustrating is a good way to describe said films.

    5, which brings me to something you touched on a few reviews back: being fooled by great movie posters. I feel like people have gotten so good at visual art that it's a cinch to come up with an amazing poster that makes you go "whoah, that film must be awesome" for even the biggest turd. I've been taken by more modern movie posters than I care to admit. If only making a great film was so easy!

    6, Come True reminds me of Beyond the Black Rainbow (and everything else by Cosmatos) with its reliance on vibe as opposed to substance, and how yes, the vibe element is strong, but that's ultimately not enough to carry the film. It's too bad because I feel like it wouldn't have taken many tweaks to make Come True (and Beyond the Black Rainbow, for that matter) really good.

  2. Oh yeah, Superman III isn't very good, but just go to youtube and look for "superman iii robot lady" and it will come up IMMEDIATELY because it is HORRIFYING.

    CPAPs are weird, but once you get used to them, they make a world of difference. I was kind of devastated when I was prescribed one, but I can't imagine living without one now. Worth the bizarre sleep study!

    And yes, Come True is the EPITOME of an ambiguous A24 modern horror movie. Oddly enough, that didn't bother me too much because its tone and vibe were so immediately clear. I haven't seen Beyond the Black Rainbow in years so I wonder if my thoughts on it would be different today, but I remember my immediate reaction was, "this is cool but not for me." I think with Come True, I go into it being so aware that I KNOW it won't be for me, which lowers my defenses and opens me up to it, if that makes sense.