Synopsis – A young couple adopt an orphaned child whose dreams – and nightmares – manifest physically as he sleeps.
My Take – Due to Relativity Media‘s bankruptcy a lot of films (good & bad) have been stuck in limbo since last year with no current status of their release dates. Lucky for people residing in the U.A.E, we get to catch one of the good ones. Going into this movie I had very little information about it. I vaguely remember watching the teaser or a trailer and didn’t read up on it either. All I knew that it was about a boy whose nightmares come true, along with the info that this film was written and directed by Mike Flanagan. Yup, the same director that gave us Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013) and the recently released Hush (2016). Luckily based on the style of his previous ventures, this horror film uses a predictable stand point and usual tropes to gear us into a direction with enough twists to keep us hooked on till the end credits roll in. Unlike most horror films now days, the film doesn’t just rely on cheap jump scares, but instead establishes itself as a wrenching dramatic horror film, dealing in issues like bereavement and childhood trauma. The story follows married couple Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth), who after the tragic loss of their young son Sean (Antonio Romero) in an accident, on a high recommendation from a representative from the adoption agency Natalie (Annabeth Gish) decide to bring a sweet and loving orphan named Cody (Jacob Tremblay) into their home. But there is one peculiar thing about Cody, he is terrified of falling asleep and he will do anything to stay awake. Apparently, Cody has a mysterious gift that enables his dreams to literally come true whenever he sleeps.
Through Cody’s imagination, Jessie and Mark are able to experience wonderful images at first. But the downside of Cody’s dreams lies a nightmare known as “The Canker Man”. To save their new family, Jessie and Mark embark on a mysterious and dangerous destination of hunt to uncover the truth behind Cody’s nightmares. On paper, a supernatural horror about a gifted boy whose dreams and nightmares able to manifest physically as he sleeps, sounds like a potentially interesting setup. In fact, the premise itself feels like it belongs to Guillermo del Toro‘s genre territory where a horror movie is told through the eyes of a child. This movie is a lot more than just the usual that is prevalent in the predictable horror movies that Hollywood seem to churn out these days. Instead of relying too much on jump scares, director Mike Flanagan uses naked emotions, the eerie setting & strong performances from the cast to push the supernatural elements to the point of believeability. The premise also deals well with death from a different perspectives. Cody’s imaginary world where he dreams a swarm of colorful butterflies feels beautiful at the beginning to his the nightmare sequence involving “The Canker Man”, a tall and gaunt bogeyman are all woven revelations of his grief. Instead of just simply trying to scare and shock the audiences’ bums off of the seat, the movie concentrates highly on the personal struggles of the characters – Jessie’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the guilt of letting her son die, Mark’s desire to be a good parent and husband, and Cody’s desire to keep everyone safe from his dreams. The screenplay, where Flanagan and Jeff Howard combines supernatural elements with heartfelt themes that deal with loss and parental love, isn’t entirely successful but still carries a fair share of emotional value. The dedication and effort put in by Mark and Jessie to let Cody feel welcome and safe when he is in their household feels sincere. College students will most definitely identify with Cody as he struggles to keep awake using energy drinks and coffee. It’s also psychologically astute, allowing for multi-sided characters: as in Oculus, our heroine’s obsession makes her seem damaged as well as sympathetic (Jessie’s the protagonist, Mark being something of a withholding manchild).
She loves little Cody, whom the couple are foster-parenting – but also uses his gift for her own purposes, showing him a DVD of Sean just before bedtime so he’ll dream of her son; “It feels like abuse,” Mark rebukes her, and he’s right.Cody is similarly complex, hating himself for what he does. Horror often deals in evil kids, but this is something subtler – a conspicuously good kid whose fears get warped in evil ways. The creepy character which Cody calls Mr Canker is uniquely brought to life, it looks like something you’ve seen before but it also looks like something a child would conjure up in his imagination. Not to say that it isn’t scary when it shows up of course. However, when it comes to the department of scares, it was a tad bit lacking. While the overall narrative is arresting, the horror is somewhat predictable simply because we know nothing is going to happen while Cody is awake. It is also heavily reliant on the use of jump scares and shrill screams, and while the Canker Man is certainly menacing, the horror scenes are rather sparse, and you can tell exactly when there is going to be a jump scare and prepare yourself mentally for when it comes. Despite that, the movie manages to wrap everything up nicely at the end, giving the viewer a satisfactory ending that explains everything. And who knows, it might even make you choke up a little. Best known for last year’s remarkable performance in Room with eventual Oscar winner Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay delivers another standout role as Cody. Tremblay gives an incredibly realistic portrayal of a child who is insecure, guilty and guarded all at the same time. Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane bring enough subtlety to their emotionally vulnerable characters. As parents who are trying to rebuild their lives, both actors are extremely convincing, with Bosworth giving us an accurate glimpse into the life of a victim suffering from PTSD . This film is really a refreshing change from the list of B movie roles this two talented actors have been undertaking recently. On the whole, ‘Before I Wake’ is an enjoyable psychological horror film which delivers on a genuine story-line along with the right thrills.
Director – Mike Flanagan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 96 minutes