Lucid Dream (dir. Kim Joon-sung, 2017) – After the abduction of his son, Dae-ho attempts lucid dreaming, an experimental psychiatric therapy that enables patients to access lost memories.
Better enjoyed as a dramatic thriller than science fiction, Lucid Dream owes more to its excellent cast than the jerry-built plotting.
When an elusive memory is all you have to find your missing child, what wouldn’t you give to relive it for a glimpse of a clue? That is what drives Dae-ho (Soo Go) to revisit the day of his son’s abduction over and over again. Assisted by neurologist So-hyun (Kang Hye-jeong), he repeatedly reconstructs the scene in hopes of uncovering forgotten details, even if the experimental therapy comes at a cost.
Entering the dream world is nothing new but a rehashed concept, which The Cell and Inception have put forth on a grander scale. Lucid Dream sets itself up for inevitable comparisons to its spiritual predecessors, but makes a lesser mark in terms of stunning visuals or layered storytelling.
A number of missed opportunities is half the battle lost. Little interest is shown in dealing with the potential pitfalls of the technology. While the film hints at the fine line between real memory and mere imagination, Dae-ho largely holds a firm grasp on his subconscious and hardly ever gets to question his reality.
The Korean thriller also overlooks the scientific mechanics behind lucid dreaming. Such workings are what make similar genre films like Inception compelling. Besides, the elusiveness of memories can hardly qualify as concrete evidence, but this apparent issue is never addressed. As a result, the highly manipulable dream world lacks complexity and holds minimal rules.
This only serves to yield contrived leads, all too obvious for the plot’s progression. Even the characters end up arbitrary plot devices. As a mysterious lurker who dreams up a life he could not in reality, Yong-hyeon (Park Yoo-chun) never gets the development he deserves. Instead, he only surfaces at convenient timings to aid Dae-ho’s quest.
But where the movie lacks in accomplished grandeur and hard science ambition, it makes up for in a moving story on the sacrifices of fatherhood. Beyond Dae-ho’s bond with his son, we also see the love of Detective Bang-seop (Kyoung-gu Sul) for his ill daughter. While the third act ‘twist’ comes off way too predictable, the brilliantly acted parallels succeed in effective evocation.
This makes for a commendable directional debut by Kim Joon-sung. He does a decent job in portraying the familial narrative with heart, in the absence of the fascinating science behind the subconscious. There is also some fantastic action to enjoy. The resultant drama may not linger with any big ideas, but is worth an afternoon watch for its sincere poignancy in parts.