This article was last modified on May 26, 2019.


Fantaspoa Film Festival 2019: “True Fiction”

Avery Malone (Sara Garcia, Reign), a wannabe writer and lonely librarian, gets her big break when she’s hand-selected to assist her hero, reclusive author, Caleb Conrad (John Cassini, Se7en). Whisked away to Caleb’s remote estate, Avery is given her one and only task; to participate in a controlled psychological experiment in fear that will serve as the basis for Caleb’s next novel.

The story starts off sort of like “Starry Eyes” (2014), only with literature rather than film. Both involve an aspiring artist willing to go to great lengths in order to achieve success. “Starry Eyes” leans more towards depravity, though “True Fiction” does hint at it early on. During a good cop / bad cop interview, Avery is asked if she is willing to get topless or if she is looking to sleep with her favorite writer in order to get what she wants.

Upon reaching the cabin, Avery finds herself quite alone – locked in with only the reclusive author to be her company. In the 21st century, it has become a recurring plot point that cell phones need to be taken out of the equation. While this may be trivial, it is something that can be dealt with in a variety of ways. Here, the “total submersion” into the writing with “no distractions” makes for a plausible reason phones would be absent. The lazy boilerplate go-to of “no service” or “dead battery” is avoided here, and that in itself deserves credit.

When Avery and Caleb first meet, we find that his two most beloved novels were written in his 20s and he feels that he no longer has “the great American novel” in him. This exchange is so true of real life. Writers, actors, and other artists are common characters in fiction, but all too often they are glamorized without a real grounding. Caleb Conrad is a realistic depiction of a writer in his middle years. The obvious horror scribe parallel is Stephen King, and the same can be said for him: his beloved novels are his earliest, such as “Carrie.” Only the diehard fans can even name one of his last ten novels. The same can be said of many musicians; Paul McCartney, with all due respect, is living off a legend he created fifty years ago. An artist going to extremes in order to recapture that early glory is not out of the realm of possibility.

Writer-director-editor Braden Croft has scripted a compelling character study. Worth mentioning alongside Croft is cinematographer Ian Lister, who gives this lower-budget independent film the sheen of professionalism. The cinematography is gorgeous, from the vast expanse of mountain hillside (presumably shot by drone) to the framing of the cabin rooms, underscoring the isolation. The color palette is rich, and just a real joy on the eyes (even when the action on screen is less than joyful).

Croft has one more trick in his writer’s bag: the introduction of an increasingly unreliable narrator. On the one hand, this is your classic horror film with blood and knives and an impending sense of dread. But what elevates it to the next level is its dipping into psychological thriller territory. Sara Garcia really pushes the limits of her character’s mental health, showing the full range of terror and grief on her face. As she gets pushed more and more, we (the viewers) have to wonder at what point she will break. How much of what we see is the work of a man driving a woman crazy, and how much is the delusion of that woman pushed over the edge?

Going into any real specifics about the second half would reveal twists, and this is really better to experience without knowing too much. I found myself vacillating back and forth a half dozen times or more, trying to determine which of the characters was the crazy one! The film’s world premiere took place on Friday, May 24, 2019 at the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I can guarantee this will be a selection at Montreal’s Fantasia, and is the type of movie that will no doubt be bought up by Dark Sky or Scream! Factory. Braden Croft delivers a winner.

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