Movie Review: Before I Wake (2016)

“Fear your dreams”

1 Stars
Before I Wake (2016)

Before I Wake (2016)


Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Bosworth, Jacob Tremblay, Annabeth Gish

Synopsis: A young couple’s foster son suffers from dreams – and nightmares – that become terrifying real.


30-something couple Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth – Black Rock), take on more than they anticipated when they adopt cute 8-year-old orphan Cody (Jacob Tremblay).   Despite the fact that his birth mother died and his original foster parents have disappeared, they expect Cody to fill the void that consumed their lives following the death by drowning of their own son – and it looks like he’s going to do just that when he first joins them.   He’s the kind of well-behaved kid who doesn’t have to be asked to remove his trainers when entering a house, but he has a strange aversion to sleeping which is probably going to wreck his health in double-quick time, especially as he’s taken to swilling sugar-based drinks at night to keep himself awake.   The reason for Cody’s reluctance to close his eyes becomes apparent to Mark and Jessie after they are visited in their front room by a kaleidoscope of luminescent butterflies late one night.   The mysterious appearance of the brightly coloured insects would be curious enough, but the manner in which they spontaneously disappear is even stranger.   But it’s only after their dead son starts appearing late at night that Mark and Jessie link the strange manifestations to their sleeping foster son.

Before I Wake has been marketed as a horror movie on the strength of its director Mike Flanagan’s reputation in that genre following hits like Absentia and Oculus, although Flanagan has been at pains to point out that it’s actually a fantasy drama.   While Flanagan’s protests are justified to a degree, there’s no getting away from the fact that Before I Wake relies heavily on the same kind of jump-cuts and sudden loud noises as every cheap horror movie made since the ‘70s.   If Flanagan had wanted to distance his movie from the horror genre, one can’t help feeling he would have been better served building a brooding sense of menace instead of resorting to cheap scare tactics.   Ironically, with their dream monster, the ‘kanker man’, Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard have come up with a genuinely creepy creation capable of become a horror icon along the lines of Freddie Krueger.

Sadly, having come up with a gripping concept, Flanagan and Howard have little idea where to go with it, and provide little in the way of explanation.   While it’s not necessary to come up with an explanation for a supernatural condition such as the one by which Cody is afflicted, the audience is entitled to expect some logic to the situations that arise as a result of the condition.   What happens, for example, to those who are snatched by the kanker man if he’s nothing more than a physical manifestation of Cody’s dreams?   And why does his modus operandi change from slaying anyone who crosses his path to cocooning them?   The film makes no attempt to enlighten us and, a final scene in which we see those victims alive and well, albeit in a story told by Jessie to her foster son, feels like a massive cop-out.   Before I Wake might provide some scares for the 13-year-olds in the audience, but the way it fudges the concept at its heart means that most adults will feel short-changed.

(Reviewed 15th June 2016)

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