I realise I’m perpetuating it with this statement, but I wish movie write-ups would stop mentioning that a movie has twists, because the entire viewing experience ends up dominated by increasing expectation that some mind-blowing revelation is about to occur. And when it doesn’t, you feel cheated and disappointed. That said, I’m not going to judge True Fiction based on how wrongly prepared I was for it. It’s a fun puzzle of a movie that plays with your expectations.
Aspiring novelist (aren’t we all?) Avery (Sara García) gets a job as an assistant to her favourite crime author Caleb Conrad (John Cassini), despite an awkward interview in which she admits she has neither the experience nor the qualifications, but ‘really need[s] this’ (I rolled my eyes at first, too, but it’s not a wasted plot point – stick with it). Hmm, seems too good to be true. Then she’s picked up and dropped off at a remote cabin by a driver who insists she hand over her phone for the duration of the job posting, which she does after some hesitation. Soon she meets Caleb himself, who asks her to undergo some psychological tests in order to give him inspiration for his new novel.
Now…my issue with this premise is that I can’t believe anyone – superfan or not – would agree to work in a remote location with no method of communication and for a complete stranger, let alone submit to psychological tests, and the movie never really successfully sells me on it. Avery is alone, suffers from a past trauma and is desperate to advance her literary career, but I still wouldn’t believe that she would abandon her pet bunny whom she calls in one scene and talks to as if it’s her child. Things just move a little too fast and a little too far – perhaps the film could have benefited from some additional scenes.
That aside, the story still works because it’s two potentially unreliable narrators pitted against each other, and it’s entertaining to watch them spar in what could have been a rather intense stage play, given the film’s single-location setting. Performances are grounded and solid, although I felt that Cassini was miscast; his speaking voice is too friendly and high-pitched to imbue Caleb with any ambiguity or menace.
There are some genuine, proper scares (ignore the silly jump scare tacked on in the final moments), given that the film makes us care about Avery, and when things begin to unravel it does naturally give way to narrative spectacle over stakes. The movie’s not shy on gore, either, with enough scenes to make you squirm with unease. A well-paced 90-odd minutes that reads like something Stephen King might have written.