[Review] Jacob Tremblay’s Dreams and Nightmares Manifest in BEFORE I WAKE

Director Mike Flanagan has been impressing horror fans since the release of 2013’s Oculus. Following up with genre standours Hush, and Gerald’s Game his seemingly unstoppable hot streak is turning him into one of the go-to’s of the genre. Boasting a full release catalog the past few years, it comes as a surprise when we learned another film, Before I Wake, has had a very long and ardous journey leading up to its recent release.

Before I Wake was initially slated for wide release in September of 2015. This obviously never came to fruition after its domestic distributor, Relativity Media, filed for bankruptcy. The film was still released internationally back in 2016, hitting Fantasia Film Festival the same year, but mainstream viewers in the United States were unable to see it. The fate of the film hung in the air for over a year. That was until Netflix finally secured the rights to allow the film to stream this month, releasing it January 5, 2018.

   

Synopsis:

A young couple adopt an orphaned child whose dreams – and nightmares – manifest physically as he sleeps.

Jacob-Tremblay-Before-I-Wake

Before I Wake follows a married couple of Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane). We soon discover the pair had a son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero), but he passed away in a tragic accident. Still grieving, but in hopes of repairing their broken family, they decide to foster a boy. Their case worker Natalie (Annabeth Gish), is able to match them. She explains that the boy has had a rough go:  His mother passed away when he was very young, he was abandoned by one foster family and taken in by another. Natalie thinks that giving the couple’s tumultous history, this particular boy will be perfect for him.

Cody (Jacob Tremblay) arrives at their house. He is polite and well-mannered. Everyone seems excited about this new arrangement. The first night, Mark and Jessie learn just how special Cody really is. Their living room is magically filled with bright, beautiful butterflies. Unknown to the couple, a sinister creature begins to manifest in another room.

Things take quite a turn after Cody dreams of their dead son. His magical ability is able to manifest him. His foster parents are rightfully in disbelief at first, but soon welcome the ability to communicate with their ‘son’. This grows complicated as the pair are unable to agree on how to handle this paranormal situation. They soon start to see that isn’t only his dreams that are manifesting, but also a nightmarish creature that he says is always with him, the Canker Man (Topher Bousquet).

*Spoilers ahead*

 

Heading into the Nightmare of Before I Wake:

What makes this film great is Flanagan’s attention to detail. While attending a support group, Jessie brings up that she thought she saw Sean. The man running the group, Peter (Jay Karnes), tells her she probably had a waking dream. She reveals earlier in the film that she has been dealing with insomnia since the death of her son. It is interesting parallel in that Cody doesn’t want to sleep and tries what he can to stay awake. This includes energy drinks, soda pop and pouring coffee into water. He even has a waking dream later in the film that makes him panic.

Mark on the other hand, refuses to attend the support group. Peter mentions this to which Jessie states that everyone deals with their grief in different ways. The family portrait that stays up shows Mark to have a beard and short hair. When he is introduced in the film, he has long hair and clean shaven. It would appear that Mark has coped with the tragedy much better and is ready to give his love to a new child. Jessie, despite what she says, isn’t. He calls her out that what she is doing to Cody is abuse, stating she is using him like a film projector.

The manifestations that Cody has are wonderful. He loves butterflies, so they appear often. Something to catch is that none of the butterflies have antennas until Annie (Kyla Deaver) from school points it out. This shows that Cody’s manifestations are only of his mind, and his perceptions of reality. Until it is pointed out, they don’t have them. When his former foster parent, Whelan (Dash Mihok), wants him to show his missing wife, Cody doesn’t remember how she was and it turns out artificial.

The most heartbreaking aspect of the film is the Canker Man; a creature that haunts his nightmares. It has sunken eyes and looks haggard. No matter where Cody goes, it is always with him. This creature is what has taken Mark, Whelan’s wife as well as his previous foster parents. Cody believes the creature is eating them.

Director Mike Flanagan has come out and said that he doesn’t feel this film is horror. He felt it was more of “fable” or a “supernatural drama”. Despite what he says, he has created quite the creature of the Canker Man.  The storytelling of this film is absolutely amazing. The issues dealing with the loss of a child while trying to show affection to another make you question Jessie’s motives. Her character growth and overcoming her grief is an excellent arch to see play out.

Before I Wake is a haunting, horror fable that will make you think and pull at your emotions. This one is definitely worth your time for a viewing.

4/4 eberts

David Garrett

Living in Columbus, OH. Degree in English and film studies from OSU. Was raised on horror. My goal is to rate and review every horror film I can find. Favorite films are Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist and Suspiria.