It’s a trope so heavily ingrained in the grammar of the modern suspense thriller that we take it for granted these days. It’s late at night, but the protagonist is still awake, performing some innocuous task or other. Spooky music begins to dominate the score. Then something weird happens, something weird and scary and frightening! The protagonist barely has enough time to process her experience before–dramatic sting on the soundtrack!–she opens her eyes. It’s daytime, and she’s lying in bed. It was all a dream. Or was it?
In Come Back to Me, this seems to happen to Sarah (Katie Walder) about half a dozen times. She and her husband Josh (Matt Passmore) live in Las Vegas, where they seem to be reasonably happy despite not having a kid. Then one day they acquire a new neighbor: the eccentric Dale, (Nathan Keyes), who works at the local grocery store and develops a fascination with Sarah. That’s when Sarah begins to suffer from the nightmares–or does she? Occasional trace evidence–spots of blood on the floor, perhaps, or the scent of cleaning products in her bedroom–convince her that whatever is going on is real, not a dream. Then the morning sickness begins.
The truth actually turns out to be pretty cool, in a “Jesus that’s some sick shit” kind of way, but the film mishandles most of its other elements, draining it of whatever effect it might have. Writer/director Paul Leyden deploys the “And it was just a dream!” trick so often that the dramatic stings elicit not gasps of surprise but sighs of, “Oh come on.” Despite the token amount of development the characters undergo, they still seem thin and insubstantial, and are hard to engage with. (It turns out that Josh is infertile, and has known about it since college–but he’s never told Sarah, even though he knows how badly she wants a kid. We find this out after about thirty or forty minutes, and the film spends a lot of time up to that point trying to convince the audience that Josh is having an affair.)
Incongruous little details stick out or fail to resolve throughout the film. Dale can afford to rent a largish house in Las Vegas on a grocery bagger’s salary. Sarah installs a Paranormal Activity-style spy cam in her bedroom smoke detector, but forgets to check it until what seems like several days after an “episode.” Sarah’s best friend also turns out to be her doctor (it feels like two characters were compressed into one) and by an incredible coincidence also happens to have a connection with Dale. Yes, I know, these are nitpicks, but when you’ve got this little engagement with something you have to amuse yourself somehow.
The best thing that can be said about Leyden’s direction is that at least it’s not completely incompetent. The soundtrack is so insecure that it constantly reminds you of its existence, lest you forget about it. And the performances? Walder does the best she can with weak material, and her best turns out to be pretty good. Passmore isn’t quite as successful, but then again, it seems to me he has a harder role than Walder. But Keyes? I spent much of the film assuming Dale couldn’t quite be the villain the film wanted us to think he is, because he takes his Stereotypical Movie Creep performance to the edge of parody. Exaggerated physical awkwardness; halting, half-mumbled speech patterns; hair slicked back in that special way that only dorky movie creeps have ever worn their hair. The character is simply impossible to take seriously.
Which is, come to think of it, something you can say about the film as a whole. There are some good bits, but they don’t come anywhere near close to evening out the bad bits or the meh bits. Not something I can really recommend.
United States. 90 minutes. Directed by Paul Leyden. Starring Katie Walder, Matt Passmore, Nathan Keyes.