From its deliberately contradictory title to the twisty battle of wills that takes up the majority of its runtime, True Fiction is a film that prides itself on being clever. I’m just not sure if there’s a story here worth being clever about.
In a setup straight out of any number of Stephen King novels, young aspiring writer Avery Malone (Sara Garcia) gets a job as a personal assistant to horror author Caleb Conrad (veteran Canadian character actor John Cassini), an elusive celebrity who has kept his identity hidden for years. After travelling to his secluded rural mansion, Conrad finally reveals himself and his plan for their work together – he wants to enlist Avery in an exercise where he constantly scares the shit out of her in different ways, in order to get at an authentic depiction of fear for his latest novel.
Naturally, Avery jumps at this bizarre request to work with her favourite writer, thinking she’s going to get some sort of co-author credit on this book, I guess. And so begins a psychological cat and mouse game where Avery gradually becomes more and more unsure of what’s part of the game and what’s not.
The thing with two-handers like this is that you have to be invested in both of the characters for it to work. Unfortunately for writer-director Braden Croft, he’s forgotten to give us any reason to care for either of these people, leaving them uninteresting at best and, at certain moments, downright annoying at worst.
We’re introduced to Avery in the initial job interview, as she’s being derided by Caleb Conrad’s snide book publishers, leading her to dejectedly admit that “there’s nothing special about me”. This apparently makes her perfect for the job but instead of Avery harbouring any doubts after this or, alternatively, that she just cunningly told the interviewers what they wanted to hear, she happily and absent-mindedly packs everything up and takes the trip out to Mr. Conrad’s abode. Her childish behaviour and constant stream of poor decisions only continue from here, making it hard to take any implied character arc very seriously.
As Caleb, John Cassini looks and sounds uncannily like Christian Slater, spouting endless reams of surface-level dialogue about the blurring of art and reality or that “the ending needs to be perfect”, which initially seems to flirt with similar themes as a meta-masterpiece like In the Mouth of Madness. Instead, Caleb just keeps talking and talking and talking and Avery just screams and generally freaks out, until a third act twist plunges things into torture porn territory that, while appropriately grisly, doesn’t really jolt things to life much.
It’s a shame because there was an opportunity in the characters here to contrast two separate generations of writers, finding tension in differing worldviews. At times, there even seems to be more on the movie’s mind, like when it takes vague jabs at the superficiality of the modern literary world. But it ends up forgoing that in favour of shrug worthy twists and easy shocks.
- Release Date: 3/6/2020