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.
Clay Riddell just landed in Boston after scoring a huge deal in New York involving concepts for his graphic novel. With all the cellphone charging stations occupied, Clay calls his estranged wife from a pay phone to speak with his son, but when the landline severs communications, that’s when it started. People on their cellphones turn into Phoners, murderous maniacs who tear through anyone in a destructive path mindless insanity. Clay, in the midst of panic, bumps into subway train conductor Tom McCourt and fight their way out of the city, barely escaping with their lives. Fleeing a burning Boston overran by Phoners, Clay is determined to track down his family in New Hampshire with the help of Tom and two teens, Alice and Jordan, but the Phoners are not just absentminded anymore as individuals start to flock together exhibiting the beginning signs of their telepathic network lending to something far more sinister than just temporary mayhem.
“Cell” is the feature film adaptation to Stephen King’s novel of the same title and reunites John Cusack with Samuel L. Jackson once again since their last costarring venture of King’s book-to-silver screen production of “1408.” King shares screenplay credits with Adam Alleca, who co-penned “The Last House on the Left” remake in 2009, and with “Paranormal Activity 2” director Tod Williams at the helm. From the first inkling of a “Cell” movie, back with Eli Roth was attached, the excitement couldn’t be contained as I read the Stephen King novel and was captivated by the unique story of mixed and varied human emotions and the uncontrollable yearnings to be a part of the collective through being electronically connected that ultimately becomes mankind’s undoing.
However, “Cell” was heading in the direction of certain doom from the moment Roth unattached himself from the project, sending “Cell” into the annoyance of limbo until a production company conglomerate formed to pull “Cell” from it’s stagnant state and attached Williams to direct. Yet once again, King’s beloved story goes into the throes of uncertainty with distribution after filming wraps in 2013. 2016 comes and Saban Films, along with Lionsgate , distributes “Cell” theatrically and within the home entertainment market respectively.
After all the monumental problems, I personally wanted to “Cell” to be one of the most entertaining and frightening horror films of the modern age, but as fate would have it, the Williams’ film disappoints. An film adaptation of a King novel needs more minutes to cover the story’s girth and “Cell” lacked pages of warranted minutes to be a full tell all for Clay, Tom, and the Raggedy Man. Portions of the novel were translated to the screen, but for the majority of the film, a rushed version of the story debuts to silver screen audiences that loses the book’s essence and dilutes character development, such as with Raggedy Man who has a sizable role in the book, but the character in Williams’ movie barely scratches the surface with being just a figurehead for the Phoners and not the collective’s soap box looming leader. The film started out great with intense chaos at Boston airport, pictorializing to life the Phoners from the King’s book with pinpoint precision, but from there on, the story’s time span goes vague whereas the book stretches out the length of time. Only a matter of two or three days does it seem the survivors jump from Boston, to the school, to the bar, to the story’s final location of Kashwak, but in reality terms and in the amount of devastation and character portrayal, weeks have passed.
The ending has been rewritten from a surprisingly mixed reaction to the book’s and yet, the unravelling of the finale does more than convolute matters when Clay finds his son. There lies almost a dual ending where one’s interpretation can be the film’s own storybook ending. Stephen King’s “The Mist” had an ending that, when compared to Frank Darabont’s totally new ending for the film, was totally inferior to Darabont’s and I feel like that’s the stage that was trying to bet revisited here with “Cell” and it just missed the mark completely. Not all changes are for the worst. Character Tom McCourt, whose white in book, went to Samuel L. Jackson who absolutely fits the role without question, nailing PTSD stricken McCourt with little emotion but with untapped hurt. If I ever had to choose an middle aged white actor for the role of Clay, John Cusack would be my first and only choice even before casting began for the film. I do feel like having a white Raggedy Man was purposefully steered away from social sensitivities with an antagonistic young black male in a hoodie. The cast rounds out with Isabelle Fuhrman, Owen Teague, and Stacy Keach (“Slave of the Cannibal God”).
The digital visual effects were so poorly constructed and composited that I’m not surprised “Cell” didn’t have a longer theatrical run. The book had a number of jaw-dropping visuals the imagination could run with and now with seeing the depictions of those visuals on screen, they seemed seriously slapped together in such haste to where the devastating sensationalism turns inane and bland. King’s apocalyptic story warrants Hollywood scale effects, but received a few levels below that bar, failing to deliver major catastrophe on a world ending scale to the likes of “War World Z” or to cleverly style the film through a smaller medium such as George Romero accomplished with this first three “Living Dead” films.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release is presented in widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the 1080p Hi-Def resolution becomes a disadvantage that clearly outlines the quality of the effects. The English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is par for the course, but slightly in-and-out with dialogue that’s difficult to balance. The 98 minute feature’s bonus features includes an director’s commentary and “To Cell and Back: The Making of the Film” which is redundant if you’ve read the novel. Bottom line is if you’re fan of Stephen King’s novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed with Tod Williams’ “Cell” that’s nothing more than a long awaited entertaining rated-R apocalyptic horror with obsolete effects and with star-studded names attached to this Stephen King story adaptation.
Jason Pargin, under the pseudonym name David wong, is a major success stories that inspire all of us hopeful writers. Pargin, a low on the totem poll data entry administrator, is the brains behind the insanely clever, notoriously witty, and devilishly deranged novel “John Dies at the End.” Without even an English degree to his name, Pargin wrote short stories that turned into a full fledged novel solely by word of mouth from total strangers. Eventually Pargin was contacted by Phantasm director Don Coscarelli and as soon as Pargin blinked, a movie was adapted from his story and the rest is hisory.
“John Dies at the End” revolves around David Wong, a video store clerk whose life isn’t exactly that excited, but when he discovers the “soy sauce” from a homeless Rastafarian Wong and his friend John are sucked into the massive plans of an alternative reality species that has their sights on enslaving humanity in the name of their leader “Korrok.” Only Wong and John can see the truth because of the “soy sauce” and while others live their daily lives, Wong and John prepare for battle the only way they know how – with boom boxes, flame thrower water guns, and Molly the bomb eating dog.
Pargin’s novel will be a treat that you’ll never ever in your life read something similar like it again. Somehow able to paint a perfect picture with his colorful use of dictionary, Pargin certainly knows how to make silly scary and fun. The pages just kept turning as if I was hooked on the “soy sauce” and was warped, like a “Star Trek” hyper drive, into an other world universe. The randomness of scenes with Wong’s first person version of events can only be described as batshit nuts with a hint of nihilism. Once you add his friend John into the mix, it’s a whole different story as John is a colorful character with classically hilarious one liners and a mind like a 13 year old boy ready to take on the world.
I’m one those people who watched the Don Coscarelli movie first before reading the book and I did this before with Stephen King’s novel The Mist and so far, I’m not disappointed with my ass-backwards way of doing things. Of course, the novel will always have more than a movie adaptation, but damn did Coscarelli bring Wong’s world to life and light and I do believe that the writings of Pargin are so vivid and clear that this made Coscarelli’s job easy.
“John Dies at the End” is a must read. It isn’t the latest best seller as the book’s been out since 2007, but this horror comedy will make you laugh and thrill you into thinking about the possibilities of our universe.