Sometimes when one is venturing into new grounds, their projects don’t always take off at supersonic speed. Take Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa for instance. She made the Oscar-nominated flick ‘The Milk Of Sorrow’ in her native language in 2009, which premiered to critical acclaim. Then she decided to brave the English language with her drama ‘Aloft’ in 2014, which sadly failed to take flight. While seven years might not be that long when it comes to the world of cinema, her latest foray, ‘Fever Dream’ adapted from Samanta Schweblin’s 2014 novel of the same name, feels like a welcome return from the wilderness. The movie premiered at the 2021 San Sebastian Film Festival and is set to debut on Netflix on October 13.
This feature is all about cozy domesticity that is rudely interrupted by uncanny intruders and plays pretty well if watched alone late at night. It’s a psychological thriller in which two mothers fear that their kids’ souls have drifted away, unfolding as a waking nightmare.
Though the feature was reportedly shot in Chile, it is set in Argentina and gorgeously displays the sun-kissed stone-speckled countryside scenery that serves as the film’s breathtaking backdrop. ‘Fever Dream’ chronicles the intriguing encounter between two very different mothers. On the one hand, there is the opulent Amanda played by Maria Valverde, who has visited a remote upcountry area for her summer vacation accompanied by her tranquil daughter Nina a role by Guillermina Sorribes Liotta, while her husband Marco, embodied by Guillermo Pfening, remains back at home fully engrossed in his work.
On the other hand, is her new neighbor, and the local beauty Carola a part by Dolores Fonzi, who is also the mother to David, played by Emilio Vodanovich. Now David ails from a childhood illness that forced his mother to seek the help of a local faith healer who apparently migrated the diseased part of her son’s soul into another body leaving behind a shell of his former self, which the mother claims is nothing near who her son was. She is trying to be a good neighbor and arrives bearing buckets of water as she warns the new residents of the untrustworthy tap water.
Of course, Amanda being the city dweller she is doesn’t believe Carola’s tales; however, it is not long before she too starts to notice that there is something weirdly amiss with David, and she soon starts worrying that a part of her sweet loving girl Nina’s spirit might drift away as well as she also starts falling ill. One can’t help but ask what could be ailing the secluded area taking guesses on whether it’s the water, the pesticides used on the crops, or something beyond the ordinary.
The opening sequence portrays a full-fledged horror flick showing extreme close-up shots of dismembered human body parts. A woman is shown being dragged by unseen forces across a soggy dense forest floor as a young boy’s voice urges her to stay awake, which sets the audience’s minds into trying to figure out what’s going on.
With Llosa staying true to her style this title too circles around the aspects of tormented mothers, mystifying faith healers and a natural world teeming with splendors and malignancy. The pacing is impressively staccato with most of the plot unfolding via the dialogue between Amanda and David in an exchange that audiences can only hear but can’t see or fully comprehend.
British composer Natalie Holt best known for composing the scores in ‘Paddington’ and the recent TV series ‘Loki’ crafts an intriguing sound that evokes the feelings of romance combined with the chittering of exotic birds.
The whole feature is a bit bonkers but very beautiful, featuring extraordinary images such as a man taking care of a mustang shown in a silhouette that looks like a centaur the first time someone sees it. This imagery resonates with the central theme of transmigrated souls and bestial individuals. The cinematography expertly done by Oscar Faura helps in maintaining a unique stylistic balance throughout the movie. The visuals get more absorbing as the narrative progresses, gearing towards the big secret that will put the central mystery to rest while teasing another stronger one.
‘Free Dream’ is a film that doesn’t display as much as it sweats out. The most impactful scenes exude immense maternal panic, which is so strong that the viewer can feel the title drifting between life and death literally. The fluid structure is loaded with evidence that David urgently diagnoses for their relevance as if giving the audience directions on how to watch best the story he has seemingly witnessed unfold several times in advance. Generally, the plot isn’t really a puzzle to be solved.
This feature isn’t one of those that quickly progresses forward. On the contrary, it is designed like a series of arcs, and the script penned by Llosa and the original author Schweblin winnows through them like a physician searching for a deadly disease, the same way the novel was structured. The only difference is that in the tome, the dialogue was written in Socratic format between the know-it-all David and Amanda, who is peering at her death bed as she lies fatally ill in hospital as her brain begins to melt away with the dread of being questioned by an individual, she can’t see hanging down on her suffering soul. Llosa’s adaptation takes full control of the audiences’ body in such a way that it never makes one lose their senses but only manipulates them to instill a short-lived uncomfortable moment.
In its actuality, ‘Fever Dream’ strongly focuses on the insanity that comes with loving someone too much that letting them go becomes an immense challenge. The movie’s approach to the central theme isn’t straight forward hence the feature is not thrilling unto itself. Still, it dwells on the issue of how parents always view their kids based on who those kids used to be, even though it’s challenging to digest who they have become or what’s really threatening to end their lives. As ‘Fever Dream’ delves deeper into the eco-horror that inspired it, Llosa drives it towards the dark understanding that most parents are more focused on their children’s tomorrow that they fail to see what they have already been through.