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To create sleep paralysis nightmares, Come True’s director turned to video games

Get an exclusive look at a surreal new indie horror film

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Sleep paralysis might be the closest experience to horror-movie fantasy that reality has to offer. Those plagued by the sensation suddenly lose their ability to move while in bed, and many report witnessing the same hallucination: a creeping figure in the shadows, watching them, preying on them.

In Come True, which opens in select U.S. theaters, and on digital platforms and cable VOD on Friday, March 12, writer-director-cinematographer Anthony Scott Burns (Holidays) brings the parasomniac nightmare to its obvious place on the screen. Actor Julia Sarah Stone plays Sarah, a high school student who runs away from home only to fall victim to recurring episodes of sleep paralysis. Enrolling in a paid sleep study seems like a win-win for a stray teen, but the experiments only seem to make the horrific images that clog Sarah’s dreams even more harrowing. There’s obviously something more going on — as there should be in any good horror film.

Throughout Come True, audiences float from Sarah’s dreary everyday life and the monstrous visions she endures. And like many young filmmakers working today, Burns sought inspiration from both film and video games in realizing the story’s more surreal elements. To go along with an exclusive clip from the movie (above), Polygon asked the director to elaborate on how a lifetime behind a controller influenced his approach to crafting tangible unreality. Here’s what Burns told us:

First came Stanley Kubrick, the Steadicam, and The Shining ... then came the first-person shooter. This is how most of us see things now.

For as long as I can remember, my dreams have always been floating monochrome carnival rides delivering me slowly towards whatever bizarre narrative my mind conjures, and I’m sure the origins of this structure/medium come from me watching The Shining as a toddler, and my family’s early adoption of video games.

Now a very familiar framing device to most of us, the first-person/third-person game movement mechanics are how most of us experience other worlds, and because of this they heavily influenced Come True’s dreamscapes.

Taking people on a journey to somewhere as experimental as the dreams are in our film, we needed a way of traveling that could be instantly understood. So we made a creative bet that the audience would accept it as a viable (and hopefully scary) mode of experiencing our protagonist’s journey — both in and out of her sleep cycle.

We shot scenes and created fully CG environments with this slow forward “float” always in mind, until the movement itself became a motif — part of our larger effort to manifest a tale that was both alien, and creepily familiar. It made sense to co-opt a style of mobility that felt like someone was both in complete control, and being taken somewhere against their will like our protagonist. This is what playing video games always felt like to me: highly entertaining choices in a world where there really are none. For me, this is true horror.

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