Before I Wake - Every Character in your Dream is You
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
I'm a big fan of Director Mike Flanagan after falling in love with his innovated films Hush (2016) and Oculus (2013), but I only got around to watching Before I Wake, also 2016, because the concept felt a little too close to that of Insidious.
Before I Wake made me feel like Tyra Banks in that episode of Top Model (We were ALL rooting for you!) because there were some great layers to the movie, but so many of them were sheer or pointless.
Following a turbulent couple who are approved to foster a young boy from a traumatic past, the initial concept isn't entirely new or fresh. Mark and Jessie are still grieving the loss of their own son, Sean, when they take in Cody, a young boy whose last home ended up in tragedy.
My thoughts throughout the movie constantly surrounded how bad of parents Mark and Jessie were, and why any other their actions would be deemed appropriate.
If you haven't seen it, here's the baseline of the story: Cody has a gift that allows his dreams to come to life, like pretty glowing butterflies, but with that comes nightmares as well, including his emaciated monster, "The Canker Man," whom he claims ate his mother.
The first night they see the butterflies, about 25 of them randomly flying in the house, Mark and Jessie look at them, dumbfounded, and wonder "where did they come from?" without so much as an eyebrow arch. Jessie is even bitten by a creepy moth and seems hardly fazed by it.
Then, after seeing a portrait of the family in the house, Cody learns Mark and Jessie had a son named Sean, who died. Of course, that night, Sean appears in the living room, only to disappear when Cody wakes up. Cody walks downstairs, apologizes, and grabs a soda from the fridge before going back to bed.
As Cody keeps dreaming, "The Canker Man" shows up, stalking him and whispering, "I am always with you," in an ominous voice. At school, Cody draws pictures of the monster and scribbles them out, telling his friend Annie that sometimes it keeps him away. Later, he falls asleep, and when a bully sneaks up on him, The Canker Man attacks him. Annie walks in, screams, and wakes Cody up.
Traumatized, Cody does everything he can to stop sleeping. While Mark takes him shopping, Jessie goes to the doctor for a prescription for a sleeping pill without telling anyone.
That night, Cody asks how Sean died and is denied an answer. He and Mark put together his new racecar bed and paint the walls of his room. Jessie brings them cake and milk, Cody's laced with his sleeping pill. Mark then decides to tell him, right before bed, that Sean drowned. Sweet dreams, kid! Oh, and he sleeps in the room while the paint is drying, so I'm sure that's good for him, too.
Above all, Mark and Jessie are terrible parents.
That night, Cody's nightmares take a turn for the worse since he can't wake up, and The Canker Man eats Mark. In the morning, the police accuse Jessie of drugging Cody, though how they figure that out even though the meds are prescribed makes little sense, and they take Cody away.
At this point in the movie, I was pretty annoyed. How were so many of these choices allowed? Drugging? Sleeping by wet paint?
The last half hour of the movie is actually decent horror. The visuals are slick, the story starts to piece together, and there is a really beautiful twist at the end explaining Cody's trauma. While it is pretty expository, it is also lovely, and speaks a lot about grief and the ways we deal with it, from children to adults.
Overall, I think the pacing was the downfall of Before I Wake. Had it been trimmed a little bit, with some of the actual horror in the beginning and fewer terrible decisions by the adults, the film may have been on a similar level to Flanagan's other films, at least visually. Ultimately, I was disappointed by the first half, and will stash this film on my "don't watch again" list.