Before I Wake – 2016

Director Mike Flanagan
Screenplay Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Starring Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, Jacob Tremblay, Annabeth Gish, Dash Mihok

There’s an inherent sweetness in the events of Before I Wake that is incredibly hard to ignore. This could be due to it’s star, Jacob Tremblay, who Cody Morgan has a way of drawing the viewer into his vulnerability. Before we know it, we’re invested in his protection from the forces that have robbed him of his mother, then many subsequent families that followed in her wake.

The story starts with one of the parents that remain trying to put an end to his and their suffering. Something comes out of the dark, preventing this from happening. Thank God, we think. Not so fast.

Jessie and Mark Hobson (Bosworth and Jane) now have their chance to adopt Cody, to occupy the space of their hearts searching for peace in the absence of their own deceased son. Things go very well at first. Cody loves the home, is open, loving and a big fan of butterflies. When Jessie finds stimulants in his belongings. He very simply explains to her that he doesn’t like sleeping. When he does, people he knows are all ‘eaten up by the Canker Man.’

If Cody never falls asleep, we have no film. Jessie convinces him that its only a bad dream. That night, the couple experiences some wonderful imagery of butterflies as the boy drifts off to dream. As soon as they inquire where the butterflies are from, they all fade away, and Cody is soon with them downstairs.

Things really take a dark turn with the requisite bully at the school. Once he goes missing, things escalate faster than the couple can keep up.

Before I Wake is not a complex movie. It’s not hard to figure what will happen and when. Mike Flanagan has a deft touch that makes it all feel very possible, even plausible. His lens is stark, and it doesn’t play the viewer for a fool. If the story is standard, at least you get the feeling that it is happening while you’re watching.

It helps that Flanagan has such a way with story and dialogue that his actors don’t ever need to stretch to find their character. At any moment in the film, the characters live like we would, and act accordingly.

The track record for Flanagan is astounding. His output is prolific and is always appealing. Every one of his films, even those he has adapted, feel like a part of a patchwork. The characters are universal in the way that we could watch any of the films decades from now and still get the same feeling as intended upon release. I’ve resisted calling him one of my favorite directors. His track record is such that I am now anticipating him the way I do Jeff Nichols, David Fincher and Mira Nair. It helps that he’s the only director that seems able to create quality work both for the theater and for Netflix.

There is not enough going on in the plot to give the film more than a moderate recommend. It’s not something that will steal your time away if you watch it once. Once you know the rest of Cody’s dream, you’ll sleep better too.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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