By Thomas White.
Zel, a lonely introverted young man, is offered the chance to overcome his social anxiety through lucid dreaming. A simple plot holding sufficient psychological interest for the makings of an engaging thriller, being a curious subject, and one less commonly associated with the genre.
Director Adam Morse, in his debut feature, creates an effective and appropriate sense of sleep depravation (satisfyingly ironic, since the feeling is brought on by Zel’s sleeping), with the waking and dream states merging into one. There is little if no distinction between night and day. The nocturnal lighting of the streets and artificially lit interiors is disorientating. You get the sense of being trapped inside a world of permanent semi-consciousness, an after-dark existence in stasis.
It is let down, however, on a number of levels. The story is played out by a cast consisting of fairly standard one-dimensional characters, each derivative and stereotyped versions of their various roles and functions; shy loner, abusive boss, aloof showgirl. This was as much down to the writing as the performances, they could have done with a bit more fleshing out.
What might also have helped was to have some distinction between the realtime world and the dream states, bringing some dynamism to the overall pace which was, for the most part, fairly flat. Although understandably this could have been a conscious and creative choice, to blur the lines between wake and sleep.
What cannot be so easily overlooked was the decision to shoot with such a dimly lit visual aesthetic. Bordering on gloomy (not in a good way) the darkness was extreme and just made things difficult to see and follow the action. The story became equally laborious, losing its initial intrigue from a general sense of apathy.
Billy Zane, one of the two ‘name actors’ attached to the project, elevates the scenes he is in playing Elliot, the neighbour who teaches Zel the concept of lucid dreaming. Sadie Frost, who plays Zel’s mother, has rather less to do, appearing in only one scene. It would have been nice to see more of her character.
Laurie Calvert gives a believable but rather flat performance as Zel, which made it hard to relate or warm to him. The character who I felt most held the story together, and propelled Zel’s personal journey, was his co-worker Kat, played by Sophie Kennedy Clark, a character with a kind-heart and genuine sense of empathy and friendship. She was a figure of normalcy in the chaotic nightlife filled with toxic characters, providing some grounding for the plot and, in the end, Zel himself, as they start to form a relationship.
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