Delayed for four years. Released straight to DVD. Given a naff renaming (the original title was Somnia). None of these are a good sign. However, despite all these distribution-related issues, Before I Wake still emerges as a solid supernatural thriller (of the PG-13 variety). Fans of the likes of Mama and Insidious should definitely take note.
The premise for Before I Wake sounds as banal as the title: Jessie and Mark Hobson (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane), still shaken by the loss of their son, take in 8 year old Cody (Jacob Tremblay), who has had a very bad run in foster care since the death of his mother when he was a toddler. The formation of this new family unit seems like the perfect opportunity for everyone to heal, except it turns out that Cody has a unique “gift”: when he sleeps his dreams come to life. And, of course, that applies to his nightmares too.
Early on, there are a couple of therapy sessions that clunkily telegraph the main themes of the film, and veteran genre fans are likely to brace for the B-grade worst. Before I Wake still manages a few surprises though, with director Mike Flanagan (responsible for Oculus and upcoming Ouija: Origin of Evil) at the helm.
Disturbing visualisations of Cody’s boogeyman aside, darker content – such as Jessie drugging Cody so she can see her dead son – adds extra layers of interest. The film’s real coup though is the casting of Tremblay, massively acclaimed for his work in Room. Bosworth and Jane are fine in fairly standard roles, but Tremblay is the emotional heart of the film. His Cody is sweet, sincere, loveable; and wracked with guilt over the suffering that he inadvertently causes. You feel for him as he does everything in his power not to fall asleep, and hurt his loved ones.
People who enjoy a more extreme, bloody brand of horror are likely to be bored by Before I Wake. If you have a soft spot for supernatural fare that wriggles under your skin, you’re likely to find this one a more rewarding experience. Although it doesn’t have anything particularly new to offer, Before I Wake is still a satisfying mix of dark magic and popular psychology regarding grief and memory. As viewing in the late night dark and quiet, it does its job most effectively.
Before I Wake is out now on DVD from Ster Kinekor.
Last Updated: September 14, 2016