Written by Michael Clawson
Slippery and sensuous, Fever Dream is an immersion in a woman’s frightened, discombobulated headspace. When we first meet Amanda (María Valverde), she’s lying in a stupor in a marshy forest, her vision blurry, her body immobile as she converses with an unseen young boy named David. “You have to stay awake,” David calmly insists as he drags Amanda across the forest’s leafy floor. “You have to understand what’s important.” David acts as a sort of guide for Amanda throughout Fever Dream, a mysteriously hazy but minimally unsettling thriller, which then, through a puzzle-like flashback structure, depicts Amanda untangling how her move to the Argentinian countryside with her young daughter led to her being alone and paralyzed in the woods, her daughter’s well-being and whereabouts unknown.
The unraveling hinges on Amanda’s tentative friendship with Carola (Dolores Fonzi), a local in the rural farm town where Amanda moves with her little girl Nina (Amanda’s husband is set to join them later). Carola is David’s mother, it turns out, and she unnerves Amanda when she suggests there’s something malevolent about her son. In a continuous back-and-forth heard in voiceover, David prods Amanda to remember her and his mother’s interactions – their time by his family’s pool, their trips to the river – strangely encouraging her to concentrate on details, as if only in the minutiae can the key to the film’s vaguely defined mysteries be found. Unease drifts through the summery, bucolic setting (think Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienega) as we’re led to wonder if something sinister has indeed taken up residence in David, or if something more disturbing is afoot across the community at large.
Adapted from a novel by Samanta Shweblin and directed by Claudia Llosa, Fever Dream’s English title suits the movie’s disorienting form, while its Spanish title, Rescue Distance, speaks to one of its key interests: motherly protectiveness. Rescue distance, Amanda says, is the furthest distance she can be from Nina and still have time to get to her should Nina come in harm’s way. Much of the film’s dread (or lack thereof) is sourced from not just Amanda’s constant calculating of this distance, but also from a growing sense that Nina – and others, for that matter – are in danger of something Amanda isn’t seeing. As Llosa drops larger and larger hints about the threat being environmental, Fever Dream doesn’t abandon its supernatural suggestions entirely, but it does vigorously nod towards real-world concerns about ecological negligence. So if the movie comes up short, it’s not for a lack of thematic substance or attractive images (on the contrary, cinematographer Oscar Faura’s lensing of sun-dappled water and farmland is nice). The issue is the obfuscation: it smothers more than it illuminates the film’s characters.
Fever Dream Trailer