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How far would you go to create great art? And how much should audiences care about the personal lives of artists? These are questions that have vexed creators, critics and consumers in recent years – look at the angry reactions in France when Roman Polanski won the best-director prize at that country’s César awards.
It’s a topic teased in the early going in True Fiction , a Canadian production from writer/director Braden Croft. “Would you still consider the Mona Lisa a masterpiece if Da Vinci was a thief in his everyday life? What if Shakespeare was a murderer? How would you feel about Hamlet ?”
The questions are posed by Caleb Conrad (John Cassini), a past-his-prime horror novelist holed up in a remote, wood-paneled lodge with more than a passing resemblance to The Shining ’s Overlook Hotel. He’s talking to Avery Malone (Sara Garcia), an aspiring writer herself, though for now she’s content with her new job as assistant to her favourite author.
This game is a controlled experiment in fear
There’s a decent thriller waiting to be spun from the thread of this premise, but True Fiction is more concerned with being a straight-up horror, and it’s a goal it fulfills nicely.
Caleb tells Avery that one of her more, um, unusual tasks will be to act as a guinea pig as he tries to scare her. He wants “purposeful exposure to the purest emotion. This game is a controlled experiment in fear.” He’ll use the data as fodder for his next novel. Starstruck, Avery agrees.
What follows is an excise in shocks, scares and subterfuge, as Avery starts to doubt her sanity amid waking dreams, echoing screams and the dawning realization that Caleb may be hiding something other than a well-thumbed thesaurus. Croft frames the story with slowing creeping camerawork, and Garcia does a great job of gradually going from dumbstruck to vengeful.
The conclusion may trouble some viewers as overly ambiguous, but that’s a question for another day and another movie. How much can you risk alienating your audience for a twist ending? I’d argue that True Fiction manages to go just far enough.
True Fiction opens March 6 in Edmonton and Toronto, and March 10 on demand.
3 stars out of 5
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020