[Fantaspoa Film Fest 2019 Review] True Fiction

When you start writing, you begin with a blank page. A tabula rasa. Into that white space, you start to imagine things. Locations. People. And just like meeting someone in real life, you know only a little bit of your characters. But as you start writing they start to pick up…well, character. And before you know it, you’re mentally tossing ideas back and forth, coming up with plot and characterizations before scrapping them and going in a different direction. But what happens when a character doesn’t cooperate? Writers often say that their characters can surprise them and often talk about them as if they are real people. The writing process is a fickle thing, as Avery Malone (Sara Garcia) discovers in writer/director Braden Croft’s True Fiction.

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Avery is a lonely librarian who wants nothing more than to be a famous writer like her favorite and reclusive author Caleb Conrad (John Cassini). She signs up to be his assistant but his needs are weirder than most. He wants to study her reactions to fear by subjecting her to a series of psychological tests. Ostensibly, this pretty silly plan is to help Caleb better understand fear and tension in order to write his next book.

You see Caleb is kind of a has-been and hasn’t written a great book in years. And what better than a truly blank state person like Avery to study? At first things seem to be pretty standard. Lie detector tests. Psychological tests. Rorscach blots. Then there’s images on the screen that feel like a mix of Clockwork Orange and The Ring followed by night vision shots of her sleeping. Then there’s a full body sensory deprivation suit.

As Avery gets more involved in Caleb’s game, the lines between fact and fiction, story and reality begin to blur. And as she (and we) begin to learn more about both characters, things become less clear-cut than they first appear.

When I started True Fiction, I was kind of put off by it, truth-be-told. It didn’t feel real and the “game” Caleb was playing felt manufactured and unrealistic. It has a pretty standard opening as Avery is whisked to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and is immediately relieved of her phone and any way to communicate with the outside world. She aimlessly wanders the house alone and her reactions to some of the freaky things she sees doesn’t read real.

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For example, during the night, the tension builds as she leans down in front of her bed and slowly raises the dust ruffle and sees a disfigured woman staring back her. She drops the ruffle and…doesn’t react? The moment doesn’t ever resurface and she doesn’t question it. Was it in her mind? Was it real? She doesn’t ask Caleb or react to it at all.

It’s kind of a messy movie that just asks for your hand before yanking you along its journey. And at first, I was resistant. It didn’t make any sense. People were reacting in unrealistic ways. But as the narrative continued and the lines between reality and fiction started blurring, I found myself oddly curious to see where it was going. Avery begins to showcase character and the enigmatic writer had me curious. The awkward chemistry between the two is palpable. The acting that I once found stilted became more nuanced.

I really enjoyed where it goes in the third act and even though there’s no major twist to give you an ah-ha moment, there’s enough little ones that start to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. True Fiction will take you on a weird, gory journey…if you let it.