You don’t always wake up from a nightmare suddenly sitting up in your bed with a gasp of shock and fear. Sometimes you just open your eyes and let the uneasy feeling settle over you. It will make you spend the rest of the day wondering what made you feel this way? Why don’t you remember the details of it? This is the atmosphere of Come True, the sci-fi horror film written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns.

Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) has bad dreams. She has a bad relationship with sleep in general, as she often has trouble finding a place to do it at night. She has left home, except for the few times she comes back for clothes and a shower, avoids her mother, can’t focus in class, and sleeps most nights in a slide at the park. When the chance to win some money by participating in a sleep study appears, Sarah seizes the opportunity, as she will finally have somewhere safe and warm to go when the day is over. She only has to sleep set up with some wires and a special suit and answer questions in the morning. Not a bad price to pay, right?

Well, things in Sarah’s life start to get more complicated. Her nightmares get worse and start to bleed into her time awake. A dark figure with glowing eyes shows up more and more. She is suspicious of what is being really researched in the sleep study. And a strange man – Jeremy (Landon Liboiron), called Rif by the team of researchers which he is also a part of – seems to be following her.

Come True has an interesting set-up, and even more interesting visuals. There is so much attention to visual detail. It is to no one’s surprise that Burns is also a visual effects artist, and every element works to unsettle the viewer. A particularly good example is how the architecture of the city is portrayed as overly symmetrical, perfect, off-putting. The world of shadows and figures that define the character’s dreams are even better, managing to be familiar, unique, and terrifying at the same time.

Combined with an amazing atmospheric score, this movie feels more like an extremely well-produced music video than a feature film. A lot of style, but not a lot of substance. The plot is gripping at first, but loses itself as the story unfolds and takes itself too seriously. What could ground the feature in its last disappointing act would be the characters’ trajectories. But that never happens.

One exception is Anita (Carlee Ryski), one of the researchers that shows the most inner conflict about the damage they are bringing to the test subjects, and the only one that has a believable emotional arc. Nothing you find out about any of the characters feels enough for us to care about them or to make sense as to why they care about each other.

We don’t find out why Sarah is homeless and has a bad relationship with her mum. Why she only has one friend that stops showing up in the middle of the movie. We don’t know why Jeremy is interested in her, or interesting himself, aside from a couple of throwaway pop culture references that are meant to show us he is a nerd.

What the film does make a point of telling the audience is Sarah’s age. Making sure that they know you know she is in high school but is not underage, therefore available to be in an unnecessary romance with a man probably 10 years or more older than her. She finds him strange, he stalks her, but they can have sex. It’s fine. She’s eighteen. It’s not creepy. At least we are meant to think that way about this plot that does nothing to service the main story, but actually deviates from it.

The last ten minutes of Come True feel like a different movie. A lot of twists and turns happen so suddenly, your head will be spinning. The stakes weaken. The ending, in particular, feels unearned – it’s  only there to be used as a big plot twist you can’t see coming, because it ultimately doesn’t make sense with the rest of the work.

Come True is a visual trip to look at from afar, that loses its beauty if you come too close. Full of creative ideas and an original look that promises more than delivers. It is an ambitious feature that should follow its thread of weirdness all the way to the end, instead of chasing too many themes and betting on shock value to remain interesting.

Rating: ★★

COME TRUE OPENED ON FRIDAY 12 MARCH IN THEATRES & ON DEMAND FROM IFC MIDNIGHT