True Fiction; 2020; Written & Directed by Braden Croft; Starring Sara Garcia, John Cassinni, Julian Richards. 1h34. Available for rent from Amazon or free via Hoopla.
Avery (Sara Garcia) sits uncomfortably in a chair, squirming at the questions asked by a pair of intimidating interviewers. She needs this job. She wants this job incredibly bad. You see, as an aspiring author, she has the opportunity to hole up in a secluded cabin with her favorite writer. Caleb Conrad (John Cassinni) is an elusive horror author, who rarely gives interviews and has never had his photograph published. He needs Avery as research, requesting she goes through a series of games and tests to give him material for his next book.
Secluded cabin with a weird author and a super-fan? Of course things wrong. How wrong? Well, Avery spends the back half the film drenched in blood, not unlike Samara Weaving for most of Ready or Not. Unlike Ready or Not, True Fiction isn’t a comedy, instead it’s a serious and often unflinching dramatic horror reminder to not meet your heroes. But also one that ends up a bit hollow, missing some character and plot beats that could have made a more solid film.
But even with that note, True Fiction, the third film from writer-director Braden Croft (I’ve not seen Hemorrhage or Feed the Gods, so nothing to compare to) is enjoyable enough, mining enough creeps, turns, and blood out of a “two people locked in a house” thriller. As I’ve said before and will say again, any horror film that shoves a handful of people in a single location and steps back to let it all play out gets automatic points in my book. And True Fiction mostly works on that front. Croft doesn’t bring much in claustrophobia from camera or set (compared to say The Lodge or The Lighthouse, where the mere act of seeing the ceilings makes ones uneasy), and the performers are serviceable but just off enough where I’d question “is the character playacting or is the performance not landing?”
It doesn’t help for either of them that it’s a situation designed to set people up to crack, as the set up is to make her scared so he can see fear “safely” up-close. Conrad’s games quickly push down the barriers of muse and creator, exploring what makes the other tick. He wants to find out her truths and actions under pressure, from lie detector tests to sensory deprivation suits, to Clockwork Orange style disturbing film shoved into your eye sockets (there is nothing by way of sexual-assault thankfully). She fights against the loss of control – she has no recourse with the doors locked and her phone taken away from the imposing man who dropped her off — and questions her own sanity as she hears a woman calling for help, sees a video of her sleeping, and has visions of a knife-wielding man in leather stalking around. Conrad sees and hears none of this. Is she going mad or being gaslit?
I know what you’re thinking – Bob I have enough movies already of women being gaslit. I say to you, don’t worry. I’m going to show the film’s hand just a little bit to say there’s more to it than that. I, too, was annoyed in the first act to this same effect, even if I thought it done well enough. However, the standard gaslighting is replaced by a more solid and bloody trajectory when Amber reaches the breaking point earlier than most similar films. As things begin to shift and slide out of control things get more interesting on screen, but Croft also starts to lose control of his film. Character notes are left behind in favor of the next shock, and many of the plot movements don’t quite add up. There are moments in the final push that have a “wait-what?-no, that doesn’t’ work” (without saying what they are of course).
True Fiction is a good-enough flick, just shy of really landing. It’s bloody, does well for a single-location, and a small budget. But I can’t help but give some love, or a strong like, to a film that let’s main character drenched in blood from head to toe.