QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN
Based on the eponymous and award-winning 2015 novel by Argentinean writer Samantha Schweblin, this Chilean-Spanish-American co-production directed by Peruvian helmer Claudia Llosa is set in the Chilean (or perhaps Argentinean) countryside. It’s a fair assumption that Netflix poured vast sums of money into this movie: the cinematography and the post-production values suggest a sizeable crew and a very large film budget.
Thirty-something Amanda (Spanish actress Maria Valverde) and her young daughter Nina arrive by car at Carola’s (Argentinean actress Dolores Fonzi) charming and mysterious country house, complete with a large porch, verdant gardens and a stable. Neither the reason for the visit nor the nature of the relationship between Amanda and Carola are ever revealed. And these aren’t the film’s only secrets.
Parallel to Amanda and Carola’s numerous conversations (inside the house, behind the wheel, on the meadow), Amanda and Carola’s small son David establish a dialogue in voice-over. The talk (which presumably takes place in the future) reveals that Amanda’s visit is a about to take a sinister turn. Carola tells Amanda that her son and her expensive horse were poisoned years earlier, and that David has since given up half of his soul. She describes her son as a “monster” whom she no longer recognises.
This is no straight-forward story. There are several narrative layers – factual, imaginary, and allegorical. The titular fever dream refers to a delirious state a person experiences upon reaching a high temperature. This is caused by some sort of intoxication, the nature of the poison however never revealed. David has seemingly experienced such state, and now it’s Amanda’s turn. She progressively slips into a an unconscious state. She lies helpless on the forest ground. Then on a hospital bed. Will she too trade off half of her soul? Will she die? What about the young Nina, whom she keeps tied to her through an invisible thread within a “rescue distance”. The original film title in Spanish Distancia de Rescate refers to this imaginary motherly tether/ bond that Amanda does not wish to break.
This is a movie that pays an enormous amount of attention to detail, and it deserves credit for that. A wriggling earthworm, the wheat pod on a stem, a three-legged horse, a dress soaked with dew – all these little signifiers acquire an extra dimension with the top-end cinematography and audio engineering. Audiences too to are urged to concentrate: “pay attention to every little detail”, says David’s voice in a quietly assertive tone. And you will. This is a movie that requires close attention. The devil is in the detail. Quite literally.
The Peruvian director toys with suspense devices, including creepy voices, blackout eyes and subtle jump scares. Yet this is not a horror movie. Fever Dream is not intended to scare you. Instead it asks you to make sense of Amanda’s strange hallucination and its root causes. Not an easy task. The human mind is deceptively ambiguous. As a result, you too may end up in a delirious state by the end of this 93-minute movie. You may not get all the answers you’re looking for, yet you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself along the journey.
Fever Dream showed in the Official Competition of the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. On Netflix on Wednesday, October 6th.