Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Claudia Llosa
Writer: Claudia Llosa (screenplay), Samanta Schweblin (based on the novel by)
Actors: Maria Valverde, Guillermina Sorribes Liotta, Dolores Fonzi, Emilio Vodanovich
By Tom Moore
The latest film from writer/director Claudia Llosa, an adaptation of Samanta Schweblin’s 2014 novel “Fever Dream”, is an impactful story of motherhood and environmental disaster that lives up to its name.
“Fever Dream” tells the story of a mother named Amanda (Maria Valverde) moving to a new town with her daughter Nina (Guillermina Sorribes Liotta) and befriending another mother named Carola (Dolores Fonzi) and her troublesome son David (Emilio Vodanovich). The two initially establish a good bond that’s continually tested as an invisible threat impacts the safety and stability of their families.
The story is framed as a dying dream with Amanda and David trying to piece together how they’ve gotten to a point where Amanda lays supposedly dying in the woods. The non-linear storytelling in “Fever Dream” really lives up to its name with how dreamlike Oscar Faura’s gorgeous cinematography is and how it bounces between different points in time. Each time Amanda and David’s voices come in to direct the story, there’s a distinct eeriness that envelops the atmosphere and adds in some psychological horror vibes. You’re always left wondering why David feels like this overpowering presence that seemingly holds power over Amanda’s fate. The voice work and overall performances from Valverde and Vodanovich are great at instilling this psychological horror feel to this seemingly normal tale of motherhood.
Amanda and Carola’s relationship is built in an interesting way through their respective relationships with their kids. While Amanda is very protective of Nina and her well-being, Carola struggles to be completely loving towards David as his troubling behavior leaves her fearful of him. A fateful decision Carola made when David was a child to keep him alive has made her feel like David isn’t the son she remembers. The budding relationship between Amanda and Carola has mysterious and tension-filled aspects given their parallel parenting situations and as David’s behavior makes Amanda weary of having him around. However, there’s always this sense of protecting their kids and it makes their stories tragic in how an unseen threat completely puts them in harm’s way.
“Fever Dream’s” greatest horrors come from its depictions of harmful agricultural procedures that deeply threatens communities with pesticides. Personally, I wish the parts of the story surrounding things like water poisoning and pesticides contaminating fields came a little earlier in the story since “Fever Dream” struggles to hook you in its first act or so. The hypnotic non-linear storytelling is a little confusing at first with how much the story jumping around and ends up creating an unclear narrative direction. The whole sequence of Carola divulging what happened with David when he was younger doesn’t really click at first because it feels too aimless and you’re left hanging in figuring things out. Netflix is truly the wild west of content and struggling to get the hooks in viewers in its initial moments usually means people won’t see it through. Unfortunately, “Fever Dream” definitely shows signs of this, but deserves to be seen through as it presents devastating effects of environmental contamination.
It would’ve been nice to have some of “Fever Dream’s” environmental themes be a little more prevalent at the start just so there’s something to latch onto, but the way these themes and depictions come into the final act is perfect. It’s sort of played up like a heavy twist that acknowledges some of Llosa’s subtle visual storytelling throughout and changes your perspective on everything seen. It’s such a wallop in the moment that the film’s showing of the damaging impact pesticides have on people instantly leaves an emotional dagger in you that makes you think deeper about “Fever Dream’s” story. Schweblin’s original novel was meant to highlight pesticide issues in Argentinian farmlands and it’s great that Llosa’s adaptation uses these themes to leave deeply emotional cuts that linger in your heart.
Although it may not get you at the start, “Fever Dream’s” strong performances and Llosa’s subtle storytelling makes for a very personal and tragic adaptation of Schweblin’s novel that offers a psychologically thrilling contribution to growing conversations around environmental issues.