Filmmaker Claudia Llosa intentionally puts viewers on edge with this unsettling tale set in rural Argentina (filmed in Chile).
Fever Dream opens with a sort of internal dialogue happening between a woman, Spaniard Amanda, and a young boy, David. They're talking about worms, and it appears she's being dragged through the woods. He tells her she needs to reconstruct what's happened, remembering every detail. All of this puts the viewer on high alert, trying to make sense of the narrative and pay attention to even the smallest moments and movements.
This dreamlike tale is constructed as much through sensation and atmosphere as action, aided by the cinematography's unhurried focus on the bucolic setting -- light glistening on golden wheat fields, ripples spreading across water, sun beating down on a woman's bare shoulders.
The film has a strong environmental message, which viewers might only put together fully at the end despite hints throughout the movie.
The title in English, Fever Dream, conveys the hallucinatory feeling of this film -- the mysterious illnesses and voices, and the disorientation that comes from not knowing who to trust or what is true.
But the film's original title, which translates to "rescue distance," suggests other intentions of Llosa and her co-scripter, Samanta Schweblin, who wrote the novel on which the film is based.
Amanda talks repeatedly about the thread that connects a mother and her child, the mental calculations a woman does to measure danger and risk, the constant dread of always imagining worst-case scenarios and a reaction time for a rescue. When kids move away, for whatever reason, the thread tenses and can break.
Mothers here carry an uneven burden of responsibility for their children's well-being and survival, physical and spiritual. Even the spirits of others who might inhabit their children's bodies become their responsibility. The parallel to humans' job caring for planet earth isn't a stretch.
In any case, the dangers -- real and potentially imagined -- that the two kids face in this film might make it tough to watch for mothers. The story might also feel a bit impenetrable for some viewers, especially at the start, and it's very different from much of what Netflix offers.
But if you take the time to soak into the atmosphere, you might find yourself thinking about this film long after the end credits roll.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.