Before I Wake (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

PLOT: A couple (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane) mourning the loss of their young son, take in a foster child – the adorable and sweet Cody (Jacob Tremblay). Yet, all is not well with young Cody, with him able to manifest his dreams in reality, something which proves to be both a blessing and a horrible curse to his new family.

REVIEW: Regardless of the very uneven result, you have to give director Mike Flanagan credit for taken a well-worn horror gimmick – that of the creepy child – and trying to elevate it or turn it into something original. An interesting mess, BEFORE I WAKE is two-thirds of a really solid horror/drama hybrid with fantasy elements, but the good is done away by a convoluted ending that doubles-down on Flanagan’s ambitions but doesn’t quite make the grade.

Making its premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, BEFORE I WAKE comes out several years after principal photography ended, with this actually having been shot before young star Jacob Tremblay signed on for ROOM, the movie that made him the award season’s unofficial mascot. With the delay due entirely to the collapse of Relativity Studios, BEFORE I WAKE could – and should – have come out a long time ago. With its PG-13 rating, this could easily bring in a decent horror audience opening weekend, although as Flanagan explained in his Fantasia intro, this is more of a fairy tale or “fable” than it is a horror movie.

It’s both to the film’s advantage and disadvantage that the reality of Cody’s power is so complicated. For the first two-thirds, BEFORE I WAKE is a superior genre entry, with Flanagan’s polished production emphasizing family drama over horror. As the parents, both Bosworth and Jane are very effective, particularly when it’s centered around domestic issues rather than supernatural ones. At first, Bosworth’s performance seems oddly minimal, until you start to realize she’s essentially playing someone zapped of any emotion after having been ravaged by her child’s death. Many would play this part with a lot of tears and anger, Bosworth does the opposite, acting almost trance-like, something I had a hard time with at first but actually serves the film relatively well. By contrast, Jane is the warmer of the two and the one who warms to Cody the fastest, making him the most immediately likable one.

An interesting twist has Jane and Bosworth’s characters using Cody’s powers for selfish reasons, giving this some ambiguity, and Tremblay, as he was in ROOM, is an extremely likable kid although he’s more precocious here than he was in that film. What’s a real shame is that the movie all but falls apart in the last act, which – to be fair to Flanagan – is ambitious and unique but will be a hard sell to genre audiences. After the film, Flanagan said he wanted to avoid “explaining” things to much, but he breaks his own rule by telling us exactly why the more nightmarish, violent figure in Cody’s dreams comes to life, while also never properly explaining the fate of major characters – something which is maddening. It ends the film on a frustrating note that all but undoes the pretty solid first two acts, and ruins what had been – up to that point – a good romp.

Still, one has to hand it to Flanagan as he’s clearly used his bigger studio budget to make something more ambitious than just another quickie horror film. Even if it doesn’t quite work, it proves he’s not content to just churn out product, making him one to watch. To me, BEFORE I WAKE is an interesting failure, and not without some strong redeeming points.

Before I Wake



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.