Updated: Mar 17, 2019
This was the last chance I was going to give to Mike Flanagan to impress me. I had seen Absentia in a film festival and thought “there is someone who has a lot of potential” and since then I felt like he didn’t try to reach it. So before I go into the “Before I Wake” review, let’s do a quick recapitulation of Mr. Flanagan’s career.
Absentia: Two sisters are investigating the disappearance of a loved one that might be linked to a mysterious tunnel. This simple premise was a great way to do a first movie. It didn’t need a lot of special effects or actors and was all about building tension. The scares are there, but only halfway (spoilers ahead). The fact that the kidnapping shape-shifting monster resembles a silver fish is somewhat of a downfall. But still, for a first movie, it was a good effort.
Oculus: For me this movie is the equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village”. It has a good start and then it falls flat on its face and is too ashamed to get up. Haunted artifacts can be a great idea in a horror film (even though no great film involving that particular storyline comes to mind right now…), but this is just a waste of your time. So let’s go over the plot: a brother and sister lose their mother because an evil ancestral mirror made their father kill her. Brother goes to a psych ward and sister plans her revenge against the reflective malignant artifact. Years later, on the day the brother is released from the hospital, the sister takes him with her to destroy the glass entity. So far it’s a more tragic way to tell “Jumanji”. Then gore ensues when the sister overthought what should have been: put mirror behind drape, hammer the shit out of it, hope the seven years bad luck on this thing it not as bad as its curse. Anyway, the scariest thing I’ve seen from that movie was when it started and I realized it was made by VVS.
Hush: A deaf woman is threatened to be killed by a masked (for about 10 minutes) killer. The idea is terrific, but the characters’ actions seem so random that you could bet that the screenplay was written with a set of dice on the side to dictate the outcome. I know some elements were put there to be out of the box, but if you’re going to make a masked killer movie, keep him masked. The anonymity makes him more menacing. But if you plan on giving him that killer’s personality, don’t even bother put the mask in the first place. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg on how different this movie wanted to be instead of just trying to be good.
I will skip Ouija: Origin of Evil, because I refuse to watch anything produced by Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay horror production company).
So we are finally there; Before I Wake:
So, as I said, this was the last chance I was going to give Mike Flanagan and he finally managed to make a consistently good movie. But I must warn the gorehounds reading this: this is not a horror film as much as it is a dark supernatural fairy tale. This is the closest to “family horror” I can think of without thinking of actual PG movies. I’m putting this caution sign before end because I think a lot of people could be disappointed going in and thinking this will be like his other work; as for myself, I thought it was the best thing about this movie.
Here’s the synopsis: a couple coping with loss adopt a child whose dream becomes real. Of course, everything goes to hell when he starts having nightmare.
I don’t want to reveal too much, but what I loved about the characters in this movie is that (contrary to most horror film) their actions make sense. I mean, the mother is a bit abusive at first when she discovers her adopted child has a gift (she pretty much use him to have reruns of her passed Christmas with her dead son), but with what she deals with, it makes sense. We just don’t agree with what’s happening. There is a very obvious, but still enjoyable duality between the mother and father figure. The mother is still in grief and not ready to shift the love she had for her son to the living child they adopted. The father on the other end wants to move on and is shown as a cool guy that would have dessert for breakfast because why not!
The actors do an impressive job and have a palpable chemistry on screen. The child (Jacob Tremblay) gives a particularly outstanding performance.
And as for the horror part: when it gets more serious it’s never gets too dark. Think of Pan’s Labyrinth for the artistic palette. The materialisation of the kid’s nightmare lacks details and texture to be scary. But since he comes from the imagination of a 10 years old boy, it makes sense that he looks like a badly drawn figure. The plot is predictable, but since I felt that it was aimed to a younger audience, I can forgive it.
All in all, it’s not a perfect movie, but it is surely Mike Flanagan’s best work to date. I would recommend it to of dark fairy tales enthusiasts, supernatural dramas lovers and Guillermo Del Toro’s fans.