Writer’s block is any creator’s worst nightmare. Imagine this horrible affliction striking as a looming deadline for your next book, article or term paper quickly approaches. No matter how long you stare at a blank computer document, the words simply won’t come. All you can think about is the clock ticking away your allotted time. No pressure, right? Although a dreadful deadline isn’t the primary culprit stressing out author Caleb Conrad (John Cassini: Se7en) in True Fiction, it doesn’t make his creative block any less excruciating.
Fearful of losing his stature as a renowned horror writer, Conrad takes an unconventional approach to inspire his next novel. Enter Avery Malone (Sara Garcia): super-fan and aspiring writer making her the best candidate to assist Conrad with his dilemma. Being selected after a nerve-wracking interview, Avery’s dream is about to come true … a foreboding dream that takes a horrific turn when she finds herself in a psychological experiment going off the rails.
Written and directed by filmmaker Braden Croft, True Fiction isn’t an absolute must-see, but it certainly isn’t far off. So much so that I’m surprised by the film’s current 4.8/10 star rating on IMDb. Sure to be appreciated by die-hard horror fans, this indie gem deserves a minimum 6/10 star rating and far more recognition.
Opening with a secluded cabin straight out of Mike Flanagan’s hit Netflix release Gerald’s Game, True Fiction captures your attention with a woman’s startling screams heard over a radio. But this doesn’t appear to be a game as a large masked man dressed in black and armed with a machete pounds on his chest before exiting the room to presumably inflict unseen terrors. Transitioning to the aforementioned grueling interview, Avery is asked some brazen questions. This almost comes across as an lewd acting audition that, in some ways, could be foreshadowing events to come.
Although True Fiction kicks off sparking intrigue, the first act becomes a little cumbersome as the film struggles to find footing and steady pacing. After Avery is selected and arrives at Conrad’s home, the horror author explains that she will serve as the muse for his next novel. Together, the duo will remain locked in this house while taking a deep dive into personal fears through an ongoing controlled experiment until the pending masterpiece is finished. It’s here that the film begins to lose traction. Despite a bizarre nightmare sequence, some creepy moments involving sensory deprivation and A Clockwork Orange-esque scenario, the plot begins to momentarily drag. Though we’re given a glimpse into Avery’s backstory, the film seems to hold back from taking a deeper dive and evoking more extensive empathy for the character.
As if to read my mind, Avery critiques a draft of what Conrad has written so far. She explains to the author that he needs to develop his character in the book further. Reflecting some of my criticism up to this point, Avery finishes her feedback by asking “What’s the point of all this? Why should I care?” as more of a statement than a question. Intentional or not, this moment is fitting in a clever way, because Croft soon gives you reason to care with the alarming introduction of Allison (Catherine Gell: Wynonna Earp TV series). What unfolds is a psychological and suspenseful blend of several horror classics and contemporary hits including nods to Don’t Breathe (2016) and Saw (2004).
With reminiscence of the ’90s classic Misery (1990) and a touch of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, True Fiction takes you to the edge of your seat while forcing you to question what’s real and what’s fiction. Garcia gives a fierce performance encompassing a gradual, yet incredible character arc as Avery while Cassini is phenomenal, flawlessly enhancing every twist and turn. Fans of the long-running hit TV show Supernatural will get an additional treat as Julian Richings graces the screen in a cameo appearance.
While several beloved horror influences bleed through with horror author icon Stephen King at the epicenter, True Fiction retains a sense of originality. More importantly, however, the film proposes a thought provoking question: does an artist’s real life matter more than his work? Discover Crofts’ thrilling work of horror streaming now on Amazon Prime.