★★ out of ★★★★★
When a little boy sleeps, his dreams… and his nightmares, come to life.
Despite the simple but intriguing premise, Before I Wake, the straight-to-Netflix film by writer and director Mike Flanagan, fails to bring anything to truly capture the audience’s imagination. Couple Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) have lost a child and have decided to foster Cody (Jacob Tremblay), an adorable and polite 8-year-old. Not exactly original ground, but knowing Flanagan’s strength in showing overlapping realities, I was still optimistic that once Cody’s talent manifested, I was in for a pleasant mindfuck. Instead, the script trudges like a student learning the two-step. At first, the dreams are pretty and safe, becoming darker and more intense in a measured predictable way.
The film relies heavily on CG imagery and with a budget of $3 million dollars, it’s hardly surprising that that dependence hinders it. The special effects look fake, amateurish. This otherworldliness works somewhat on the small scale; these are, after all, representations of dreams, but it’s hard to feel that the characters are ever actually in any real danger from Cody’s green-screen Boogeyman.
Many times in horror movies we’ve seen the couple so desperate to be reunited with a child that they’ll engage with the supernatural to make it happen. Sadly, Flanagan seems to rely on rather than subvert this trope. Jessie and Mark need demonstrate no other qualities than “parents” and Cody no more than “grateful orphan.” Well, except this is a kid that really like his butterflies, a theme that is jam-packed into nearly every scene to the point where you have to wonder if it’s the butterflies that are really supposed to be the main characters.
Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard intended this movie to be less of a horror film and more of a dark fairy tale. It fails to scare and it fails to entertain. So, after nearly four long years waiting for release, perhaps this film should have remained asleep.
If the plot of Before I Wake appeals to you, check out The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue.