Grieving parents, Jessie and Mark, aim to heal the deep wounds of the tragic and accidental death of their young son by fostering an orphan boy named Cody. After the mysterious death of Cody’s mother and having been through two concerning foster parents prior to Jessie and Mark, Cody strives to be the most sweet and loving child to his new and pleasant foster parents, but Cody has a dark secret that keeps him up at night. When Cody falls into a dream state, his subconscious imagination manifests his awe-inspiring dreams and even his worst nightmares that become deadly with the presence of the malicious Cranker Man, a dream shadow who can pluck anyone into disappearance that happens to be near the slumbering boy.
“Before I Wake” director Mike Flanagan labors over all that is supernatural, churning out more than his fair share of specter-centered storied films including “Absentia,” “Occulus,” and the more favorable sequel to “Ouija,” entitled simply enough “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” that was produced alongside “Before I Wake” in 2016. Flanagan’s knack for suspenseful tall-tale horror doesn’t pigeonhole the Salem, Massachusetts born director into producing the same terrorizing story over-and-over and while “Before I Wake” has undoubtedly a few heart-pounding horror elements, fantasy more than so strong arms the genre into a branding submission. If I may be so bold by comparing “Before I Wake” to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan Labyrinth” might be committing, perhaps, blogger career suicide, but the draw to resemblances can’t go ignored with what “Before I Wake’s” Cody creates from his overly stimulated dreams is much more familiar to what “Pan Labyrinth’s” Olivia character imagines when she escapes the horrors of a war bred sadistic maniac, if even only in a diluted version of events.
“Superman Returns” actress Kate Bosworth headlines with co-star Thomas Jane (“The Mist,” “Deep Blue Sea”) as the unwitting foster parents who are forcing themselves back into the parenting game. I specifically was not coming to terms with Bosworth’s performance as Jessie; her facial expressions and body language, along with her tone and line deliveries, were too lifeless with rigidity and repetitiveness. So much so that I compared Bosworth to Suzanne Cryer’s impassive Laurie Beam character from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Unless the inexplicable amount of grieving has voided her of all emotion, like the Borg drone from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the role of Jessie is written with a variety of mood driven circumstances that start with her insomnia, to her willingness to not leave their home, to being carelessly exploitive with Cody. Being a fan of Thomas Jane since 2004’s “The Punisher,” I might be a bit biased, but Jane had more range with the ability to switch back-and-forth between mixed attitudes and sentiments, making the dynamic between Jane and Bosworth clunky and awkward. To round off the trio of main actors, you might recognize the pint sized actor playing Cody as Jacob Tremblay from the 2015 Oscar Winning Brie Larson film “Room” portraying an innocently pitiful dreamer with an unquenchable thirst to be loved.
The Flanagan and Jeff Howard co-authored storybook script, intentionally or not, borrows heavily from psychoanalyst Sigmund Frued’s dream interpretation theory that wishful fulfillments are more common in children. Previous day activity, or day residue, has influential properties on a child’s dream, much like with Cody in this story, and Cody’s dreams are written to be an exaggerated fruition, fulfilling his desires and illuminating his emotions to the brightest or the darkest extent. Like many other films that involve the misunderstanding of children, adults Jessie and Mark blindly understand all the possibilities of Cody’s uncontrollable gift, exploiting Cody’s powers for their own greed. I did find that I love Jane’s Mark character as he tries to show Jessie the errors of her reasoning as he’s a bit of a kid himself, living vicariously through Cody with the video games and with the pizzas as if husbands, or men in general, are actually children at heart. Cody’s gift becomes a power struggle with Mark caught in the middle and the consequences of this struggle result in being the catalyst to unify Jessie and Cody as a strong bond between Mother and Son. Men totally receive the shaft in this picture where both dominant adult male figures are reduced to a forgotten or humbling state, left behind because mother knows best when it was really mother who dismantles the situation.
“Before I Wake” is a boogeyman fable of sleepless nights that independent Canadian distributor Mongrel Media presents on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in North America on a home entertainment platform come January 10th. The film has been in a distribution limbo since U.S. theatrical distributor Relatively Media filed for bankruptcy, but, luckily for fans of the supernatural genre, Mongrel Media obtained home video rights. I was provided an online screener link, forcing my hand to not comment on the specs of the Blu-ray audio or image quality nor touch upon the bonus material, but what I can state is that the spin on the dream killer won’t stop here with “Before I wake.” Dreams, like conceptions of outer space, are vast with unlimited, unconstrained content that surrealist director Mike Flanagan has only partially tapped into by exploring the dangerously innocent perceptions fabricated from a child’s abstract mind.