Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane
Watch Before I Wake online in the UK: Netflix UK
A new Netflix Original film, something feels slightly off when watching Before I Wake. Despite the film not seeming to be a period piece, the merits of Xbox’s Kinect are spoken about early on and the Nintendo Wii is offered as an alternative. Added to this, Jacob Tremblay appears to have stilled his growth since Room’s awards season circuit. The reason? Before I Wake is not really a Netflix Original – instead, the film was shot in 2013 and was bound for theatrical release, until the rather sudden collapse of its distributor, Relativity.
Since then, director Mike Flanagan has become a hotter horror property, with another Netflix film, Hush, the Karen Gillan-led Oculus, and the sequel-no-one-wanted-but-actually-wasn’t-bad Ouija: Origin of Evil all pointing him out as one to watch. The prospect, then, of a theatrically shelved horror belatedly coming to Netflix becomes one a lot more inviting than normally expected.
Despite a rather generic title, Before I Wake has a great deal going for it. For a start, Flanagan has always shown himself as a director with a keen eye and that very much rears its head here. The central conceit (which is revealed early on) – that Jacob Tremblay’s Cody has dreams which become real while he sleeps – is one that isn’t necessarily horror-centric. Indeed, a visual motif is established, which is frankly beautiful, as the boy’s mind shows off its capacity for wonder before the darker forces take hold.
Flanagan’s horror is full-blooded, but Before I Wake’s story elevates it above other films of this type. This is a story wracked in grief and indulging in your own dark emotions to the detriment of others, a cousin to JA Bayona’s heartbreaking A Monster Calls, which has similar themes of children and parents trying to understand each other’s feelings when dealing with an overwhelming sense of loss. The third act wraps up the story in an unexpected way, confronting the monster invading Cody’s dreams in a matter-of-fact, talky way, which, in another film, would show a lack of budget, but here points to a more fulfilling aim than simply trying to scare you.
The performances are all solid, with Kate Bosworth putting in a very solid shift as the foster mother using Cody for her own emotional ends, before realising the error of her ways. Thomas Jane’s quiet father figure gives a sense of light relief at times, although the inner turmoil is never far from the surface, and Jacob Tremblay again shows why he got so much attention for Room, a natural child actor you fully understand the warmth shown for on screen.
Before I Wake is an involving and wonderfully melancholic 95 minutes, which continues to show off Flanagan as a man who knows how to create tension but also knows how to tell a story. Netflix’s backing will get it in front of more eyeballs – it deserves it.
Before I Wake is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.