There’s a lot going on in Fever Dream, a movie that seems to be aiming for deep meaning but winds up a muddle.
At the risk of reductionism, I’ll simplify. Director Claudia Llosa tells the story of two mothers, one of whom (Delores Fonzi) believes that her once-adorable son (Emilio Vodanovich) has been transformed for the worse. I’ll elaborate later.
The other mother (Maria Valverde) so fears losing her young daughter (Guillermina Sorribes Liotta) that she obsessively calculates how long it will take to reach her child should danger arise.
Early on, Valverde's Amanda arrives at a beautiful spot in rural Argentina for a vacation, expecting that she'll soon be joined by her husband.
Fonzi's Carola already lives in the area. The two women meet and make what appears to be a strong connection.
Now, all that sounds clear enough, but Llosa employs a structure that complicates matters, opening the movie with an image of Amanda being dragged through a forest.
Llosa turns the story into a flashback from its opening, an arty mystery that constantly seems in search of clarification.
Another flashback explains how Fonzi's Carola and her husband (German Palacios) fell into terrible debt and how her son David became so ill that she had to submit to soul migration at the hands of an aging local woman with healing powers.
The woman tells Carola that she might be able to save the boy by migrating half of his soul to another being, but cautions that David never will be the same.
The movie’s images have a haunting openness, thanks in part to the work of cinematographer Oscar Faura. Fever Dream brims with suggestion and promises of revelation, largely unfulfilled -- even with the addition of a trendy environmental twist.
In the end, it's not easy to know what to make of Llosa's effort. Fine performances from Valverde and Fonzi create mystery. Sometimes, the film speaks the language of horror, and the provocative behavior of Vodanovich's David can be unsettling.
The poor kid. He seems to have lost his soul and gotten almost nothing in return in this murky, head-scratcher of a movie.