Fever Dream Review: A Netflix Thriller About A Mom’s Worst Nightmare

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San Sebastian: Adapted from Samanta Schweblin’s chilling novel, Claudia Llosa’s “Fever Dream” is the director’s first film since “Aloft”.

A scared young mother named Amanda (Maria Valverde) is dragged on her back through a dark swamp. Worms – worms that are everywhere inside the body. “You have to understand what’s important,” pre-teen David (Emilio Vodanovich) whispered invisibly into his ear canal. “Where’s my daughter?” Amanda asks. It does not matter. Beautiful Carola (Dolores Fonzi) tilts her head out of a car window, her curly blonde hair catching the wind. A slow river seeps into everything it touches. You have to pay attention to the details. Breeding and dying horses. Fleeing souls.

Adapted from the 2014 novel of the same name by Samanta Schweblin, Claudia Llosa’s slightly delusional “fever dream” is a trip to the head of a thriller that is quite true to its title from the start; it’s an icy thrill of a movie that doesn’t unfold as long as it sweats, the most effective scenes are feverish with a motherly panic so intense that you can feel the movie oscillating between life and death – lure and repulsion. The plot is not a puzzle to be solved, although its liquid structure is full of clues that David urgently diagnoses for relevance, as if he was telling us how to watch a story he has seen several times. previously. Check it out. Ignore this. “Sometimes your eyes are not enough.”

Everything is quite simple in outline, and would seem even simpler if we had enough to take a step back and see the big picture. Amanda, a cosmopolitan millennial bloke who presumably lives in Buenos Aires, takes her five-year-old daughter Nina (Guillermina Sorribes Liotta) on a girls’ trip to an idyllic Argentinian farming village. There she meets the slightly older Carola, a country girl whose golden bikini and disgruntled gaze suggest a spiritual disconnection from the earth. She’s a natural fashionista who lives in the kind of place where you need an excuse to be glamorous; Since her husband lost his farm, Carola has dedicated her life to finding one.

Amanda is drawn to her. The tourist bonds with the local beauty by confessing her greatest parental anxiety: she calls it “the rescue distance”, which happens to be the Spanish title of Schweblin’s book. “The thread that binds me to my daughter. I spend half my time calculating this distance, but I always take more risks than I should, ”she sighs, one eye fixed on Nina running by the edge of a swimming pool. “Why do mothers always imagine the worst that could happen? “

It’s a typical moment in the midst of a film that constantly asks rhetorical questions, and also one that reflects how “Fever Dream” often hides its most poignant ideas in the obscurity of their unspoken answers. It makes us feel the horrible truth, afraid of what we might find. Maybe mothers imagine the worst that could happen so they can fool themselves into thinking that they can even to imagine the worst that can happen. Some films are so clearly the product of parental fear that they could act as birth announcements; Llosa made this one after having her second child.

Carola doesn’t share Amanda’s worries, as she no longer cares about her son, David. “It doesn’t belong to me anymore,” she intones categorically. Amanda says “a child is eternal,” but Carola disagrees. She reveals that her boy fell ill a few years ago and that a local mystical woman traded part of David’s mind for another body in order to alleviate the toxins. Half of his soul has harbored someone else since; a complete stranger living inside Carola’s once-precious son. Amanda is shaken by that all-too-perfect metaphor for the bittersweet horror of seeing her child become his own person – of watching him helplessly as he travels outside the rescue distance. But then Nina also falls ill.

“We have to go back to the garden, Amanda.” It is not a film that advances. Rather, the recursive “Fever Dream” is shaped like a series of concentric circles, and the screenplay – co-written by Llosa and Schweblin herself – sifts between them like a doctor in search of the source. a fatal infection. Schweblin’s novel was structured in much the same way, except that it was written as a sort of Socratic dialogue between all-knowing David and dying Amanda (lying on a hospital bed as her brain began to melt), and heavy with fear of being questioned by someone you can’t see.

Always slippery, Llosa’s film does not have the same formal audacity; often enigmatic but hardly ever confusing, he turns in on himself with a clear objective. Maybe too clear. With a few notable exceptions (for example, a man’s silhouette blends into the horse he rides like a centaur), the images themselves are perfectly readable in a way that makes it seem like the mystery that surrounds them, despite how the false confidence of our understanding can also work. for the benefit of a film so preoccupied with missing the forest for the trees. Does Carola bother to wonder if David’s plight might be indicative of a larger issue? You tend to know what you’re watching even if sometimes you don’t know why you’re watching it – Oscar Faura’s vibrant, sunny cinematography usefully maintains a certain stylistic imbalance – and the film only becomes more alluring as it unfolds. focuses on the big secret that will solve its central mystery while teasing you with another twice as strong.

As Llosa indelibly proved with “The Milk of Sorrow”, his cathartic fable about a woman who puts a potato in her vagina to protest (and protect herself) against the sexual violence that has terrorized Peru in the 1980s, few modern filmmakers are able to portray female anxieties in such visceral detail. Here, however, those anxieties tend to be overwhelmed by the details used to render them. Despite a small handful of shakes and a rising tide of ambiguous worry, Llosa’s “Fever Dream” is so determined to understand Amanda’s possible understanding that it leaves no room for the ominous concern of its source.

The film’s growing sense of narrative momentum owes less to the surrealism of Jorge Luis Borges or the social discord of Lucrecia Martel than to the symphonic catharsis of Christopher Nolan (with breaking violins), or the epiphany that s’ collapses in the time that awaits at the end of “The Arrival” of Denis Villeneuve. It may be structured with the amorphism of a feverish dream, but Llosa’s adaptation grabs your body more like a cold; he never makes you leave your senses, he only uses them to instill a brief discomfort.

While the film version of “Fever Dream” doesn’t elicit the same palpable degree of fear that this material has had in the past, it does find other ways to work your nerves. From the moment Amanda first invokes Rescue Distance, Llosa firmly maintains the idea of ​​a rope as something that can tie a parent to their child, but also something that can strangle them both. ‘there is not enough slack.

Despite all its relative lucidity, Llosa’s “Fever Dream” burns with the madness of loving someone too much to let them go. The film’s non-linear approach isn’t exciting in and of itself, but it does show how parents still look at their refracted children through the lens of who those children were, even when it makes it so hard to see who they have become, or what really threatens to kill them. And as the film sinks deeper into the waters of the very specific ecological horror that inspired it, Llosa forcefully pushes it toward the grim understanding that most parents are so focused on where their children are going. children that we don’t see the dangers of where they’ve been. We only fear what we can imagine, and sometimes our eyes just aren’t enough to see it.

Category B

“Fever Dream” premiered at the 2021 San Sebastian Film Festival. It will be available to stream on Netflix starting Wednesday, October 13.

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