Before I Wake was originally supposed to release this time last year. Then the production company got bankrupt and kept pushing the release. It still hasn’t released in the U.S. and U.K.. It is a wise decision on the producers’ part because they’ve realised they don’t exactly have a product that will change their fortunes for the better. The fact that a film – one that has got no release in the U.S. and U.K. -- is the lone English release in India this Friday speaks for itself. One, it’s a pretty bad film; and two, it reflects our incredibly low standards as a movie-going audience. Especially since distributors pick Before I Wake for a theatrical release here over Hail! Caesar, Steve Jobs or Macbeth .
Coming back to the film itself; well, what about it really? To begin with, it’s the horror equivalent of a Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-rom-com. The more you earnestly try to engage with the movie -- setting aside pre-conceived notions -- the more it seems firm in its absolute resolution toward embracing dumbness. You fear not the supernatural forces at work in the film but the fact that you maybe a stupider person by the time it’s over.
It anyway takes a horror film to have something special to make me feel really involved. One way to go about it is to keep it psychological where the audience is uncertain whether the film’s events are happening for real or it’s all inside the characters’ head. The Australian film Babadook (2014) comes to mind because it shares a somewhat similar theme with Before I Wake – about a mother and a troubled child. But the latter isn’t psychological horror, it’s supernatural horror. Fair enough.
Cody is an eight-year-old boy who lost his mother when he was too young to remember, has been a difficult child to adopt. Jacob Tremblay plays a character much like the one in Room, a child with parental issues. He has already been sent by three sets of foster parents back to the orphanage. Enter, Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jesse (Kate Bosworth), a couple still mourning the loss of their son who was roughly the age of Cody. They seem perfect for each other. Now the problem (gift/curse) with Cody is that he doesn’t sleep at all – he tries real hard not to, by drinking caffeine-powered beverages all the time. The reason is when he sleeps, he has nightmares (sometimes dreams, but mostly the bad kind) and they manifest in his real surroundings. There is a recurring figure in the nightmare – a hilarious skeletal demon – who besides looking super fake can be really dangerous too and disappear with real people along with him. To where? Don’t ask. We know that the story will find its culmination in Jesse’s reconciliation with his dead son and Cody’s with his dead mother. But the two never meet. And all we get is random, disparate set-pieces.
Amidst all the ridiculousness Tremblay, with that well-shaped betel leaf of a face, is the only positive little thing. In the final minutes when the back-story is explained, one feels a certain sadness looking at those eyes. While the film tries hard to emotionally manipulate and fails miserably, it doesn’t have the camp value either. The film shamelessly tries all the old tricks in the book to scare -- child ghost under the bed, tick; there is someone behind the character who she can’t see but we can, tick; and dead child coming back to interact with parents, tick.
I abhor the use of phones in theatres but even I couldn’t help reaching out for mine a couple of times. I yawned too. A lot. Let’s say, the film thankfully ended just before I woke.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Kate Bosworth
Duration: 96 minutes
Plot: A young couple adopt an orphaned child whose dreams - and nightmares - manifest physically as he sleeps.