With Netflix’s Spanish-language thriller “Fever Dream,” a likely Oscar submission from Peru that debuts at the San Sebastian Film Festival on September 20, Claudia Llosa (Oscar-nominated “Milk of Sorrow”) returns to South America after filming her English-language follow-up, family drama “Aloft,” starring Jennifer Connelly.
The atmospheric, hallucinatory “Fever Dream” is another mother and son fable. After the birth of Llosa’s second child, the director read the magic realist novel “Distancia de Rescate,” by Argentine author Samanta Schweblin, and instantly saw the movie in her mind. “Usually, I’m not looking for things to adapt, but it just captured me in such a way that I needed to do it,” Llosa said on a Zoom call from her home in Barcelona. She wrote Berlin-based Schweblin to ask for a meeting. She wanted the author to help her adapt the story.
Then the director approached producer Mark Johnson (“Rain Man,” “Breaking Bad”), who had been in touch with her since her uncle, director Luis Llosa (“Anaconda”), introduced them around the time of “Milk of Sorrows.” Johnson optioned “Distancia de Rescate” for her, and she and Schweblin wrote the script.
And when Netflix movie chief Scott Stuber asked Johnson, long a powerful influence with the Academy’s International Feature committee, if he could recommend some foreign-language directors, Johnson brought in Llosa and set the project up as a Netflix Original South American Spanish-language production. “There’s such a huge number of countries where Spanish is spoken,” said Johnson, who also reached out to Chilean producers Pablo and Juan Larrain’s Fabula Productions.
In the end, the Peruvian director filmed the movie with a largely female Chilean crew in Chile with mostly Argentine actors. We follow a story within a story as a wealthy vacationing woman (María Valverde) expires in a hospital bed as she is questioned by a local boy (Emilio Vodanovich). What the hell is going on? We find out in fragments as the haunting story gradually unfolds: mysterious, elusive, dangerous, and unsettling.
Using voiceover and a rushing river as throughlines, Llosa creates a propulsive, relatable tale of rich visitors and poor locals, protective parents and neglected children, and the sense that at any moment, something can go terribly wrong.
“I needed to create that movement,” she said. “This river was an umbilical cord that travels through the film. Fracturing the journey is so appealing and creates urgency and great confusion and creates this reality at the same time that is threatening. And works like a clock that is ticking, ticking, ticking.”
The movie doesn’t hit you with in-your-face scares, but it’s a satisfying fable that comes together by the finale, when we figure out who’s doing what to whom, what it has to do with the bucolic landscape, “and its connection to us,” said Johnson.
“I wanted to make it rooted in Argentina, but also respect this feeling that this could be anywhere in the world,” said Llosa. “It’s like, this horror of the daily life, of the things that we need every day and the fear of motherhood that is always so present. I was portraying the complexity of the feminine world and also motherhood, the difficult balance between giving freedom to your child in order for him to become an individual and at the same time, the need to protect them.”
For the first time Llosa worked on an entirely South American production. “It was magical because it’s happens not so many times that we can have the best talent of Latin America working and being funded there.”
Check out the first trailer for “Fever Dream,” available exclusively on IndieWire, below.