Class of 2018 – Before I Wake

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BEFORE I WAKE is the first movie placed into the Horror Movie Yearbook Class of 2018. Kind of? You could probably assign it to the class of 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017. But Netflix gave people in the United States a legal way to watch it in January of 2018, so we’ll go with that. As you may know, Mike Flanagan’s BEFORE I WAKE had a bumpy road to release. United States distribution rights were acquired by Relativity Media all the way back in April of 2014, with the film originally scheduled to be released in May of 2015. It was instead pushed back twice from its original 2015 date, due to Relativity Media filing for bankruptcy that same year. The movie then screened at the Fantasia Fest in July of 2016 for its North American premiere, before being acquired by Netflix in 2017, where they announced that it would finally be getting a proper U.S. release in January of 2018. So here we are. I think that covers it.

The interesting thing about watching BEFORE I WAKE in 2018 is that it follows in the footsteps of three Mike Flanagan directed films released after its completion: OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, HUSH, and last year’s GERALD’S GAME. Coming on the heels of those three films causes WAKE to feel like a bit of a curiosity, because it is actually more in-line with Flanagan’s first two films, OCULUS and ABSENTIA, especially in terms of its subject matter and themes.

Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) are trying to overcome the loss of their only child, Sean, who drowned in the bathtub a few years earlier. In an attempt to heal from that tragedy, the couple adopts an 8-year-old child named Cody (Jacob Tremblay). As the couple takes him into their home, Cody begins to exhibit strange abilities, such as the ability to make kaleidoscopes of butterflies appear while he is asleep. Cody has a hard time fitting in at home, as well as in school. One day to avoid being confronted by the school bully, Cody asks to stay after class and falls asleep at his desk. While asleep, a creature called “The Canker Man” manifests and abducts the bully. From there Jessie sets out to heal Cody, and stop his nightmarish visions from harming anyone else.

BEFORE I WAKE is a film that explores grief and loss, specifically, the grief caused by the loss of a child. While the film deals in the fantastic and supernatural, the focus of the movie is on adult characters, dealing with adult problems–and how, if it all, these people can bounce back from the most devastating loss of all. . The world is a dangerous place, and the best you can do as a parent is to try and keep your loved one’s safe. BEFORE I WAKE asks how a person responds if they are unable to do so.

While the 2018 release of BEFORE I WAKE might feel like an awkward fit in the timeline of Mike Flanagan’s filmography, the movie is perfectly in-line thematically with the rest of his work. The effect that grief, and loss, can have on people is something that has popped up in each of Flanagan’s films to this point. In ABSENTIA, the plot revolves around the sudden reappearance of a husband after being declared dead, right when his now-pregnant wife is ready to move on. OCULUS tells the tale of a pair of siblings reunited to destroy what they believe to be a haunted relic that possessed their now-dead parents. HUSH is about a woman overcoming the more obvious physical loss of her hearing to defeat an attacker inside of her own home. The plot of GERALD’S GAME is pushed forward by a couple trying to reignite the lost passion in their relationship with. Flanagan has even been able to work these themes into his bigger studio work, as OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL follows a family trying to cope with the loss of its patriarch.

Mike Flanagan has referred to BEFORE I WAKE in interviews as a thematic capper on the trilogy made up of his first three films; ABSENTIA, OCULUS, and now WAKE. BEFORE I WAKE sits in-line with those three movies, not only thematically, but in terms of quality as well; as it does feel a bit like a newer filmmaker beginning to find his footing. I liked both OCULUS and ABSENTIA quite a bit, but I have really enjoyed Flanagan’s more recent output. OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL is as good a haunted house style movie as you can ask for. HUSH is a simple premise turned into a riveting 90-minute feature. And GERALD’S GAME is one of the best adaptations of a King book ever. It’s a bit odd to watch BEFORE I WAKE following those last three films, because in some ways it feels like a step backwards from them.

The actors are all solid in BEFORE I WAKE. This was filmed before Jacob Tremblay blew up with ROOM and that Colin Treverrow movie everybody hated, but he’s good here. He’s one of those kid actors that is pretty good at his job, which gives him a bit of unnatural quality that works within the context of this film. Bosworth is fine, but the movie requires her to do most of the heavy lifting as it pushes Tom Jane’s character to the side for much of the film, and I’m not quite sure she is always up to the task. Jane is good, but I kept forgetting he was in the movie until his amazing mane of hair would pop back into frame and he would sulk for a scene or two.

The main weakness of the movie though, is in its dream/nightmare sequences. There is just something off about them. The CG in these sequences is never really engaging, particularly as it pertains to the “The Canker Man”. The creature is just never creepy enough to work on the level it’s intended. He’s just kind of a brown, skinny, blur-thing. It’s a bummer. The movie also features an epilogue, that much like GERALD’S GAME, takes up quite a bit of time, and wraps everything up in a tidy bow. I liked the epilogue of GERALD’S GAME better than WAKE’S though.  GERALD’S GAME ties thing up in a way that still maintained a certain edge, while this one borders on being overly sentimental. I didn’t hate it, but I was ready for the movie to end.

BEFORE I WAKE is a good-natured horror/fantasy movie, and I dig that. Horror movies can be pleasant too. I’ve seen some people call it too nice, but the first scene in the movie features a man standing over a child getting ready to shoot him in the head, so I’m not sure I would go that far. It’s an interesting experience watching BEFORE I WAKE for the first time in 2018 though. If this was the movie that followed GERALD’S GAME, it may have been more of a letdown, but when reminded that it’s Mike Flanagan’s third movie, it fits nicely within his quickly-growing filmography.