What is the true price of being a writer?

Creativity always seems to come with a cost. Think of all the wonderful artists, writers and musicians out there who have had to deal with all sorts of inner demons. Alcoholism, drug abuse, broken families, depression, anxiety, childhood trauma. Real art is about conflict in its various forms, and who is better at representing conflict than those who deal with it every day?

For Savannah Martin, the hottest new horror novelist in the country, the price of creativity is night terrors. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s been tormented by nightly visions of a shadowy figure. No amount of success or therapy has been able to let her sleep in peace. Still, she trudges on with a kind of grim determination, accepting the role they play in her life and making the best of it that she can.

Ahead of a trip back to her hometown to celebrate her younger brother’s high school graduation, her psychiatrist warns her that the medication he is giving her to treat her night terrors may have some… unfortunate side effects. Such as, making it more difficult to differentiate between the dreams and reality.

With that, the stage is set for a mash-up of horror plotlines that are deftly blended by filmmaker Chris Blake into a singular surreal tale. Drunken twenty-somethings converge on a cabin in the woods (Savannah’s childhood home) without WiFi or cell reception for a weekend of drinking and sexual tension. Our heroine struggles to find meaning in her increasingly vivid dreams and the connections they have to her childhood. And the local sheriff (Savannah’s father) investigates a series of brutal murders that remind the locals of events that happened some twenty years before.

It takes some cunning work behind the camera to make these three streams come together, and for the most part, Blake manages to do so seamlessly. Throughout the film, themes of light and shadow are woven through the dialogue, and illustrated very effectively on screen. The use of literal shadow to at first conceal, then gradually reveal elements of Savannah’s dreams, are complemented by the figurative shadows cast by figure of Savannah’s mother, and the family secrets that have lead to her sudden success. The film really takes its time with each new reveal, making sure the audience has really digested the implications before moving on.

I don’t think this approach would have been nearly as successful without a wonderful performance from Ashley Pereira in the lead role. She masterfully conveys a level of deep emotional exhaustion brought upon by years of nightmares, without ever losing the dynamic energy necessary to keep the audience engaged in her fear. You can’t help but feel that every emotional shift is earned and justified by what she goes through. When the third act kicks into high gear and the tension is at its peak, she really breaks loose in a way that is unexpected, but thoroughly satisfying.

It isn’t a perfect film by any stretch. A few elements could have been better executed. For instance, the scenes of the bumbling small town police officers really seemed like they were dropped in from another film. But the strengths of the movie more than make up for them. This film packs some terrifying dream sequences, a thought provoking mystery, and a wonderful lead performance from someone I expect to be a breakout star someday soon. I think there’s a lot to love about this film, and it’s one I’ll be wholeheartedly recommending to those who enjoy films on the more cerebral end of the slasher spectrum.

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