It seemed like a good idea. Avery (Sara Garcia), an aspiring writer, gets the chance to work for her favorite author, reclusive Caleb Conrad (John Cassini). Presented as an assistant position, Avery soon learns she actually is part of a psychological experiment set to serve as inspiration for Conrad’s next novel. A simple setup in a simple setting. Two characters in a locked cabin with tension brewing – it’s what manic thrillers are made of.
Small questions start popping up as the story progresses: Conrad, a Stephen King style author, has never been seen publicly, so how can Avery know he is who he claims he is? She seemingly has a troubled past, something Conrad knows unusually lot about. Is all of this Avery’s paranoia, or is she part of a larger study?
Either nothing is as it seems, or everything is. True Fiction’s cat-and-mouse game is as much between the dominating author and his unraveling assistant, as it is between our perception of what is real and what is not. The premise is intriguing. How well it is executed is more of a mixed bag.
It starts off slowly, almost haltingly so. The first thirty minutes focus on Avery’s mundane life and her initial awkward interactions with Conrad. It is something we’ve often seen in this sub-genre, and it feels predictable. As we move into the second act, and the experiment begins, things pick up. Avery’s paranoia – if that is what it is – starts taking over, and she may or may not be seeing and hearing other people in the house. She strongly suspects she is filmed in her bedroom, and with all doors locked, there is no way for her to get out of the cabin.
It’s simple, but it works, in no small part due to Garcia and Cassini’s performances. The two are the only on-screen characters for most of the film, and they both make the most of it. Conrad’s real motives (outside of finding inspiration for a new book) are as unclear as Avery’s mental state. If what is going on is malicious or not remains a question mark until the end.
This could have been a great thriller had the first act moved faster. Get past it, and the next two acts have the tensity this type of movie benefits from. True Fiction is a very good movie, maybe even surprisingly so.