In “Before I Wake,” Grieving parents Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark Hobson (Thomas Jane) decide to adopt a charming eight-year- old boy, Cody (Jacob Tremblay). What seems to be insomnia due to Cody’s history of unstable home environments is actually much more complex and horrifying than that. Are these foster parents prepared to face Cody’s night terrors manifested in reality?
The film takes place in Fairhope, Alabama. Within the first few days of staying with the Hobsons, it becomes apparent that anything Cody dreams about in his sleep comes to life. Cody avoids sleep as much as he can with caffeine and sugar; what starts out as harmless fluttering butterflies leads to the reappearance of the Hobsons’ deceased son, turns into what nightmares are made out of. The “Kanker Man” from Cody’s nightmares haunts him in real life, in his new home, and even in his school. After the sudden disappearance of her husband, Jessie goes on a hunt for answers in the history behind Cody’s long list of foster parents. In the emotional ending, Jessie uncovers a sad secret, she figures out how to stop the nightmarish projection, and finally puts an end Cody’s nightmares for good.
Director Mike Flanagan creates an original story plot that is fueled by slowly snowballing tensions that build up to full horror potential in the climax. The unique use of story book-like dream settings gives the viewers insight that the dreams are from the perspective of a young boy, which foreshadows how he will subconsciously reflect on dealing with death, acceptance, and loss. One of the most interesting things about “Before I Wake” is that it shows actual human emotion and empathy not only in the expected protagonist, but the antagonist as well, which is very uncommon in the thriller/horror genre.
“Before I Wake” can be considered a unique mix of Wes Craven’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” in terms of dark imagination and Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theories involving dream interpretation and the subconscious. The moods are set throughout Cody’s sleep cycle as vivid colors in scenery portrays the wonders of Cody’s imaginative dreams symbolized by gentle butterflies. His dreams are contrasted with a dark gloomy palette when his dreams transition to nightmares with the sudden swarming of moths. Danny Elfman and The Newton Brothers, the composers of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” were responsible for the perfect composition of both soft melodic and eerie musical effects that brought the dream and nightmare atmospheres to life.
This movie is highly recommended to those who can appreciate the psychological thriller, horror, and fantasy genres. The film leaves viewers thinking they can predict the ending, until the plot thickens and takes a complete opposite turn. “Before I Wake” is one of the only films that can scare viewers out of their seats and make them an emotional wreck all in one scene, this roller coaster needs to be experienced.