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A moody, unsettling lo-fi dream in ‘Come True’

Julia Sarah Stone appears in a scene from “Come True,” a film by Anthony Scott Burns. (AP photo)

The murky and illogical territory of dreams and nightmares has always provided fertile ground for filmmakers. Not only can your imagination run wild on screen, but there’s even less of an expectation that it make any sense in the end. How could a creative soul resist?

In “Come True,” a lo-fi indie from director Anthony Scott Burns, the nightmare is always the same for a runaway teen, Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who sleeps on a playground slide and guzzles coffee to stay awake as long as she can. When you see the muscular, shadowy figure with the glowing eyes that looms in her dreams, you’ll start to understand why she has a perpetually haunted and twitchy demeanor. Sleep is not peace for Sarah and she’s starting to crack.

So when she spots a flyer at the local coffee shop for a university sleep study that pays, she heads right there. It seems like business as usual, with a peppy research assistant and a few repeat subjects coming back for more monitored sleep. But she soon discovers that it’s a little more experimental than she thought and possibly even sinister. They’re not just studying sleep. They’re mapping the dreams. Cue the “Inception” music.

With David Cronenberg overtones, “Come True” is a slow-burn experience that also feels very independent. The cast is scarcely recognizable and it was made with a slim crew. Burns not only wrote and directed, but also shot the film and helped compose the moody, synth-y score. It’s why it feels so much like a singular vision, which in this case has pros and cons. The film is a striking exercise in tone and builds to a few terrific crescendos that will surely leave viewers with some goosebumps. He’s not an impatient filmmaker and the steady hand pays off. Burns has an affinity for deserted hallways, nighttime vistas and distorted video screens. Stone, too, is excellent in a difficult and taxing role. She fills the frame with nervous and vulnerable energy.

The story itself and the dialogue leave something to be desired, however. It’s a smart film, certainly, but maybe not as smart as it wants to be. And there are a couple of clunkers that bring the mostly meditative experience to a halt.

Then there’s a subplot with a researcher (Landon Liboiron) who develops a crush on his teenage subject that just feels far too icky for a modern movie. That she is technically 18 does not make it better. The end, too, is oddly specific and gimmicky for a film that has thus far basked in its own vagueness. And it might leave you incredulously asking “what” a la Oprah during the Meghan and Harry interview.

But for as frustrating as it sometimes is, “Come True” is hard to resist, not unlike a dream itself.

“Come True,” an IFC Midnight release in theaters and on demand Friday, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. It contains disturbing images. Running time: 105 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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