Movie Review: 'Before I Wake' a Half-Scary Frightener

Movie Review: 'Before I Wake' a Half-Scary Frightener

When he goes to sleep at night, young orphan Cody’s dreams come to life.

He isn’t awake to see the real-life manifestations of his dreams, but if others are nearby they might see vibrant butterflies, Christmas presents, or – if Cody is having a nightmare – a terrifying Slenderman-like monster here termed The Kankerman.

This is problematic. In the film’s opening scene, foster father Whelan (Dash Mihok) is about to murder the poor boy in his sleep, but just can’t bring himself to do it – even if Cody’s dreams are his living nightmares. 

It’s an out-there premise, even more so than most films of this type. But I think we’re always willing to grant a movie one big implausibility, and while I doubted the viability ofBefore I Wake’s premise, I was willing to go with it.

Unfortunately, the logistics aren’t explained clearly enough for us to make sense of how the living dream-beings really work. Are they…? Can they…? What if he…? Where do they…? Nope. Nada.

Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth star as Mark and Jessie, a married couple who lost their young son a year before the movie opens. They seem to be doing well, though Jessie takes pause every time she passes the bathtub her son drowned in, and they get some good news when an adoption case worker (Annabeth Gish) tells them she has the perfect young boy for them.

Unfortunately, it’s the kid whose dreams come true at night. But Cody is aware of this, and comes prepared for life with his new family, packing energy drinks and stay-awake pills so he won’t fall asleep (or at least not before his new foster parents do).

I liked these initial scenes between the Cody and his new parents, and I liked it even more when the film twists away from the expected and into a realistic realm: when Jessie realizes what’s going on, she starts showing Cody photos and videos of her deceased son and doping him with sleeping pills so he’ll dream him up and she can spend some final moments with him.

Creepy stuff, and far more thoughtful than the generic jump scares that dominate much of the rest of the film.

Here’s the reason to see Before I Wake: Cody is played by Jacob Tremblay, star of last year’s Oscar-winning Room, and he’s one of the most endearing child actors to grace the screen in quite some time.

For all the areas where this film fails, there are small moments – including many of the scenes between Tremblay and Jane, doing some excellent, understated work here – that are so grounded and real that they almost bring a tear to your eye, and make you wish they weren’t contained in this silly pseudo-horror movie.

The scary stuff, by the way, flatlines. Amidst a sea of CGI effects, I admire the filmmakers for using practical work in some scenes, but ohmygosh, does that monsterman look goofy.

Climactic scenes tie everything up in a neat little package, and there’s a pretty nifty explanation for the existence of The Kankerman and Cody’s backstory. But by this time, the movie has lost us.

Director Mike Flanagan’s last film, Oculus, was genuinely creepy and unsettling, and one of the better indie horror films to come out in recent years. This one is not.

Before I Wake hits screens in the Czech Republic and a handful of other countries without a confirmed US release date. That’s almost never a good sign, and while there’s a lot to like here, by the end it’s clear that this movie has some serious issues. 

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