‘Come True’ is moody, unsettling, unsatisfying

Keep an eye on the shadow: Julia Sarah Stone stars in the flawed but atmospheric thriller “Come True.”

“Come True” is a brooding mashup of genres — a coming-of-age movie that swerves into science-fiction and horror.

The film focuses on a small, unnamed suburban town from the perspective of a high school student named Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who can’t sleep and runs away from an abusive mother.

All she wants is a decent night’s rest, but foggy, threatening nightmares jolt her awake in terror. Weary and frightened, she drinks a ton of coffee but she still falls asleep in class.

Inspired by an ad she finds on a bulletin board in her school, she signs up for a sleep study program hoping to earn some money (it pays $12 per hour), escape from her mother and rid herself of her night terrors.

But once in the program, clad in a ribbed helmet and body armor attached to monitors, Sarah’s nightmares coalesce around shadowy, zombie-like figures with glowing eyes in scenes of horror in which Sarah herself is a presence.

Sarah’s unconscious visions soon give rise to a paranoid sci-fi tale inhabited by Jeremy (Landon Liboiron) and Anita (Carlee Ryski), the sleep-study technicians who could be Sarah’s protectors or oppressors, headed by a ruthless scientist wearing huge, square-framed glasses named Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington).

The director, Anthony Scott Burns, who wrote the script, brings these nightmares to life with vivid effects (as when the zombie men materialize in a sleep chamber and menace the dozing subjects) but loads the story with half-baked psychology and trivial subplots that sink its ambitious ideas.

Individual scenes are far more interesting than the overall plot. The script’s biggest weakness is its premise, which dulls the point of the sleep experiment. Dr. Meyer is dabbling in some vague way with recording images of dreams and then sharing them with the minds of other sleepers as one would share an image on social media. It’s difficult to accept or understand, although Dr. Meyer manipulates his equipment (and hapless technicians) with confidence and Heatherington convinces us the character knows what he’s doing.

Wisely, the plot places Sarah at the movie’s center, and she becomes its heart and soul. This strength has its roots in Stone’s evocative, emotionally coherent performance. Sarah is more interesting as a character than as one of the film’s concepts. Her scenes work because of her inner turmoil brought about by fear and confusion.

Sarah is the most consistently rewarding aspect of the movie. Stone’s carefully balanced performance, between headstrong rationality and gentle innocence, gives the film life and warmth.

The final section of the movie contains an elongated sequence of Sarah sleepwalking through the dark, quiet town and a climax that is both shocking and confounding. The movie evokes such other sleep-oriented thrillers as “Dreamscape” (1984) and the series of “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, without the gore. Burns minimizes the big scares and goes for atmosphere, but his efforts are not fully satisfying.

“Come True” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Vudu.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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