Netflix's 'Fever Dream' Is a Creepy Adaptation of a Darkly Terrifying Novel

The adaptation of Samanta Schweblin's excellent book will get inside your head.

fever dream netflix movie
Diego Araya/Netflix
Diego Araya/Netflix

If you're the sort of reader who is drawn to the weirder alleys of literary fiction, who likes a magical realist story or two, or who is attracted to writing that has some (or a lot of) darkness to it, you've probably come across the work of Samanta Schweblin, the Argentine author who exploded onto the American literary scene when the English translation of her novella Fever Dream (first published in 2014 as Distancia de rescate) hit shelves here in 2017 and promptly won that year's Shirley Jackson Award. Since then, English translations of her short story collection Mouthful of Birds (2019) and her novel Little Eyes (2020) have also been released here, making her an author to watch. Fever Dream, in particular, is a lyrical, endlessly creepy and claustrophobic novel with shades of Pet Sematary and Lars Von Trier, so it's no wonder that it's been turned into a similarly creepy film, now available on Netflix.

A young boy named David is taken ill with a life-threatening sickness, and his mother Carola (Dolores Fonzi) takes him to a local healer who tells her that she can save the boy, but she'll have to split his soul in two in order to counteract the sickness. The mother agrees and her son survives, but ever afterward the boy is different, a little bit strange. A few years later, Amanda (María Valverde) and her daughter Nina come on a trip to the country and befriend Carola—they attempt to befriend David as well, but she warns them to keep away. Amanda is hyper-vigilant around her daughter, constantly calculating the "rescue distance" she'd need to step or jump or run or drive in order to save her child's life in case anything were to happen to her. A pall seems to hang over the small town, killing animals and making the people strange, and Nina is in more danger than either realize.

The movie, like the book, is told in a mixed-up sort of way, with cryptic narration throughout from young David as he attempts to retell the story of what happens to Amanda and her daughter to Amanda herself. While there are elements of fantasy and unreality, the story's big reveal is a terrestrial one, a human-manufactured evil whose destruction first inspired Schweblin to write her novella, struck as she was by the plight of rural communities in South America living with the many-pronged devastation of agriculture and pesticides. The film makes an almost supernatural horror story out of a very real threat, challenging its characters to go further than they might wish to save the ones they love.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.