“In my dreams you’re trying to kill me”
As a proof of concept for what is currently in development as an episodic series, Kevin K. Shah‘s short film Lucid provides a psychological wallop of quick cuts and disorientation. It’s ending reveals itself as a beginning for something larger—an unexplained answer to the questions we’ve been asking from the start. What is going on inside Karen’s (Marion Kerr) mind? Where is the rage coming from that she projects onto her husband Sam (Ross Marquand) when his real life self is anything but violent? Is the nightmare born from her subconscious or could it be from an outside source of which she has no knowledge? We may find out if the pitch lands and the show is produced. Answers, however, aren’t a necessity when the work succeeds on its own.
Watching and enjoying it without the context of knowing more is planned might actually be the best option. Because if you allow yourself to be enveloped by this subtly futuristic world created by Kerr (Shah co-writes from her original idea), you will be hypnotized by its increasing strobe of mundane actions cut against the anxiety of abuse and the fear of losing control. You’ll see it as a puzzle to be solved: figuring out there’s more to this dream that continues right where it abruptly left off the night before when Karen startled awake and hypothesizing whether it may eventually come true. And then, right when you think dream state and waking life are overlapping, the chaos pauses suddenly to introduce a new question. Which version of Karen and Sam is real?
This is its horror moment, not the helplessness we feel as Angry Sam roughs up Scared Karen each night nor the almost clinically precise monotony led daily by Perfect Wife Karen trying her best to be what she thinks Compassionate Husband Sam desires. These two couplings are the extremes we all face in our own relationships—the cautious trepidation of not wanting to be the one who screws up and the volatile battle that may ensue if one of us does. There’s a wide chasm of disconnect between them on their surfaces, but both are intrinsically linked. They ultimately hope sex can be the answer, simultaneously supplying a release of tension and the possibility of an offspring that may prove the missing piece to happiness. It’s never, ever that easy.
Kerr is phenomenal as always, moving from graciously optimistic to profoundly frightened via the jarring passage of time constructed by Shah and Jamie Cobb‘s sound design and editing. She travels from consciousness to consciousness so rapidly that you see both Karens at all times. There’s an uncertainty behind her sweet smiles and hope underneath the fear of what Sam might do. For Marquand’s part, his ferocity in “dream” becomes so visceral that you almost wonder whether the nice guy warmth in “life” is all an act. This is a crucial detail because the story itself makes you wonder if anything onscreen is devoid of fabrication at all. The depth at which this manufacturing goes is unknown in Lucid‘s current form, but its mystery spawning countless interpretations may be its greatest strength.