Directed by #TomsonThomas
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Since the unexpected runaway success of Christopher Nolan’s Inception the ‘dream-thriller’ has become an increasingly common sub-genre. Sometimes it follows generic tropes typical of the dramatic thriller, with minimal fantastical iconography. At other times the dream-scape becomes a playground for the horror writer; a place where their character’s demons can be confronted in excruciating detail without hope of absolution. Lucid Dreaming is one such film; an ambitious and thought-provoking indie short with big ideas, but a lacklustre execution. While many films can be considered a mixed bag, few get so much right yet so much wrong in just under a quarter of an hour.
Two scriptwriters and roommates discuss their stagnating careers and overdue rent payments. When one raises a potential concept called ‘lucid dreaming’ the conversation devolves into a sinister world where reality and fantasy become difficult to differentiate.
The biggest problem with Lucid Dreaming is its insufficient explanation of what exactly its titular concept is. Vague notions are offered, but the expectation that one should have to do their homework to properly enjoy it is a frustrating one. This unfortunately isn’t aided by sloppy translations that make the already clunky exposition almost impossible to follow.
Characterisation of the two leads is somewhat more successful and we do at least get a bit of a sense of who these chaps are. While the acting is dangerously close to being hammy, occasional moments of subdued facial expressions and formalist intonation ultimately save both performances. Though this doesn’t excuse the grating performance of the character that ends up the victim of the bizarre hell-scape as they spend most of their torturous experience shouting unconvincingly and employing eye-roll inducing crocodile tears. Though this agonising irritation does carry the advantage of firmly putting the audience in the same hellish situation.
Writer-Director Tomson Thomas has a better handle on the technicalities of crafting suspense than they do delivering compelling dialogue or adequate pacing. Once we actually get into the dream itself the film finally begins to get interesting as the hypotheticals of the dull conversation dissipate into genuine action. Unfortunately, despite some impressive lighting and a decently foreboding score, the aforementioned screeching and an anticlimactic final stanza mar what could’ve otherwise been a satisfying trip into the depths of a psychological breakdown. Still, if we had gotten there the characters are so skin-deep that the conflict would’ve likely felt equally unearned.
Unsurprisingly, the script is what most heinously damages the film’s credibility. Everything is ambiguous, and yes; Inception is a little ambiguous. But Inception also boasts characters with understandable motives and a clear, well-defined concept. That’s not to say there’s no merit to Lucid Dreaming, but when its core concept is so frustratingly nebulous, it becomes difficult to overlook its faults.
Regardless, there is some joy to be found in the latter half of the film, with its spooky atmosphere and delightfully macabre mise-en-scène. That dream sequence grants the filmmakers the opportunity to flex some impressive cinematography and lighting muscles; the symmetrical imagery is astounding, and delicately hints at the unworldly and cyclical nature of this bizarre realm. Equally, the use of a tighter aspect ratio allows for an immediately claustrophobic viewing experience that grips us from the beginning.
More irritating is the interjection of overlong title cards, ridding Lucid Dreaming of a precious thirty seconds to instead necessitate the audience staring at a still image. Bafflingly, there also seems to be no record of the two actor’s names, as in spite of the overlong production credits, no performer information is given. (If this can be resolved, please get in touch and we’ll update our review).
Lucid Dreaming is a frustrating affair that squanders its obvious potential. It’s a thriller that shakes its amateurisms to become momentarily compelling, only to ruin it with an overexplained line of frazzled dialogue. Perhaps it fares better in its native tongue, but the poor translations make it difficult to either understand or enjoy the clumsy narrative. While it boasts excellent lighting, cinematography, and especially music, the poor pacing, confused script and barely passable acting cannot be overlooked. Lucid Dreaming is an admirable effort at a horror short, but is sadly too clunky to be at all thrilling.
Do yourself a favour and wake up from this dull nightmare.