Zel (Laurie Calvert) is sleepwalking through life, part-funded by parental handouts and interrupted only occasionally by other people. He has a crush on a neighbour (Felicity Gilbert) and is in conflict with his boss at work, situations that he lacks the confidence or constitution to resolve. When another neighbour, Elliot (Billy Zane), suggests that he use lucid dreaming to rehearse different problem solving scenarios in his sleep, Zel starts to draw strength from his successes in the subconscious. However, when these increasingly vivid extrapolations become indistinguishable from real-life decisions he starts to lose his grip on reality.
Lucid’s production is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least the fact that first-time director Adam Morse is registered blind and has been since his late teens. Despite being left with only peripheral vision, Morse continued to pursue a career in filmmaking, successfully directing his first short in 2014 and winning the Audience Award at the London independent film festival. The Window, like Lucid, featured guitar music on its soundtrack performed by Morse’s younger brother, Jake, who is afflicted by the same hereditary eye disease. Amazingly, some members of the cast, Zane included, didn’t find out until filming began, while one of the film’s investors remained in the dark until production had wrapped.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of the resultant film, a bland and oddly unlikable feature that squanders its premise and fails to showcase the talents of its cast and crew. Cinema has produced some unforgettable dreamscapes over the years, from Freddy Kreuger’s perverse nightmares to Christopher Nolan’s architectural puzzles, each finding new and imaginative ways to render the surreal and uncanny experience of dreaming onscreen. Considering that Lucid aims to confuse the real and dreamed worlds it is perhaps understandable that Morse and cinematographer Michel Dierickx wouldn’t wish to pursue anything too outlandish, preferring to utilise subtle differences in character rather than showy differences in context, but it’s still disappointing that a film about lucid dreaming should encapsulate little more than animal masks and hair gel. It feels like a failure of imagination, and one it shares with its protagonist.
The main issue is that Calvert’s Zel simply isn’t interesting as a character whether he’s sleeping or awake. For starters, the name is inconsequential and incongruous — an unlikely moniker for someone so insecure and self-conscious, and one with no obvious thematic meaning or other relevance. His characterisation is lacklustre and unsympathetic, his workplace is contrived and unconvincing, while his fixation on a stranger and his dream machinations to win her heart are disturbing rather than romantic, meaning that when he does start to lose his grip on reality the resulting chaos feels utterly warranted and deserved. It’s OK for a protagonist to be awkward and quiet, obviously, as long as they’re still in some way compelling. While his imagined confidence helps — to make the character involving, if no more endearing — it is not enough to support an entire movie, and only Zel’s scenes with Zane’s Elliot, a far more engaging and charismatic character, hold any real interest.
Lucid may have been a dream project for its director but ultimately lacks the clarity and coherence that its title might imply. There’s no doubt that Morse’s story is inspiring, and that his debut shows some intermittent promise, but his plot displays none of the same ingenuity or passion. While regaining consciousness during a dream might be exhilarating, maintaining it throughout a film is anything but.