The latest effort from Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) is by turns his most ambitious and disappointing film to date, grasping so enthusiastically for greatness but ultimately succumbing to genre cliches, low production values and an unconvincing climax.
Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) Hobson recently lost their son Sean in a tragic accident, and decide to adopt a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay). While affable and smart, Cody harbours a secret ability, to bring his dreams to life, as well as his nightmares.
Flanagan’s film has an undeniably swanky premise, one that’s all the more impressive as the uniquely unsettling character motivations seep through at the end of the first act. For all of its problems, the film sure boasts more substantial psychology than most films of the genre, and it’s easy to sympathise with the still-grieving parents in particular.
It nails the emotional turmoil of loss, while deftly balancing its tones with a welcome mixture of sweetness and suspense. This is aided tremendously by a trio is marvelous performances, with Jane and Bosworth in particular turning in their best work in quite possibly several years.
The pic struggles more when it comes to the fantasy-horror elements; the nightly suspense sequences are fairly limp and repetitive, and though the effects-driven nature of the dreams-come-alive scenes are a brave step-up for Flanagan, atrocious visual effects and a disappointingly generic villain ruin a lot of the intrigue.
In short, these elements conspire to make the film feel a lot goofier than it clearly thinks it is. It all adds up to a frustratingly ambiguous ending that ditches logic in favour of trying to conclude on an enigmatic talking point for audiences. Sadly, they may leave the cinema more miffed and irritated than intrigued.
Though it’s admirably mired in tragedy and heartbreak, Before I Wake unmistakably loses its way in its later stages and could’ve used a decidedly bigger budget to properly realise its tantalising premise. This isn’t so much a failure as it is the middling execution of an interesting idea, but if you’re fans of the three leads, perhaps it’ll still be worth your time.
Before I Wake is in US cinemas September 9th