Sleep is a frequent collaborator with horror. From the long nights of Paranormal Activity to the boogeyman under the bed. The dark of the night when you are curled up in bed is often the moment when the spooks decide to play. Should you try to stay awake? Or would you rather not see what is coming?
Well, in the case of Before I Wake to stay awake is to survive. When Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) bring in foster child Cody Morgan (Jacob Tremblay) to fill the hole left by the death of their own son, they are initially enraptured when his dreams coming to life. Through them, Kate finds a way to say goodbye to her lost son while the butterflies that flap their way around the room are an added bonus. It’s only when his nightmares turn up that things go wrong.
Before I Wake is half a decent film. The initial premise and Kate’s growing addiction to Cody’s dreams promise something a little bit different. Not to mention allowing for constant shadows to be lurking in the background. It’s a shame then that it all kind of peters out. Kate’s investigation into Cody’s past all feels a bit too simple, and the final conclusion is notable only for the overwhelming feeling of ‘is that it?’
It’s also unlikely to scratch the itch of those looking for scares. There are a few tense moments, but ultimately only the scarediest of scaredy-cats is going to fall for its thrills. The only true horror comes from your gut-wrenching hope that not a hair on the adorable head of young Jacob Tremblay is bent out of shape by what is going on.
Which marks the only real reason to watch this film. Filmed in 2013 before Tremblay had appeared in Room, all the remarkable vulnerability that he displayed in that film is on display here. He’s a tiny little creature bursting with cuteness, and you’ll instinctively despise any nasty soul that looks likely to make him feel uncomfortable never mind hurt him. It’s not enough to turn this into a must watch, but it is the thing that turns it from a bad film into an average one.
Because average is how the rest of it is summed up. From the underwhelming ending to the performances the whole thing reeks of missed potential which can be linked to director Mike Flanagan’s career so far. Oculus threatened to be something decent but fell off the boat and while I like Hush it doesn’t seem to have got anywhere near the attention it deserves. There is undeniably something there, but he doesn’t seem to have captured it yet. In Before I Wake it feels like he is grasping for the fairy tale horror of Pan’s Labyrinth, but he falls far flat of that.
If you are a horror nut then Before I Wake will keep you mildly entertained for half its running time. For everyone else, it is utterly missable. What it will be, if Jacob Tremblay career continues its current path, is a curio. A curio of him at his smallest and his most vulnerable and the undeniable charm that that presents.
Verdict: Hall of Shame