THE CASE OF THE MISSING CLASSIC THRILLER
Before I Wake
Review by Ray Schillaci
We’ve heard about wonderful screenplays, long in gestation, yet never being produced. Amazing films with such promise that never get finished. Then there is the rarity of a great film that gets bogged down in legality, and does not make it to the big screen and/or the home theater market. Mike Flanagan’s (Absentia, Oculus, Hush) classic thriller, Before I Wake, is a prime example, a mystery with spookhouse thrills that also comes with a big heart. It’s been screened internationally, but cannot be seen in the states due to the bankruptcy of its distributor.
Flanagan and his writing partner, Jeff Howard, have developed a smart tale of fantasy and terror. There are such wonderful surprises with this unique tale, I’m going to give you only the briefest of outlines. A young boy (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay as Cody) has gone through a couple of foster parents by no fault of his own, or so we’ve been told. The fault actually lies in his sleep.
Jessie and Mark, portrayed by Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, The Warrior’s Way) and Thomas Jane (The Mist, Deep Blue Sea), are dealing with the worst grief possible, the loss of their only child. After some time, both still are dealing with the loss in very different ways. Jessie still attends grief counseling with a group while Mark struggles with it in a quieter way. After discovering that Jessie can no longer have children, both have agreed to be foster parents, and have recently qualified.
They’ve been told by Natalie, the case worker played by Annabeth Gish (Mystic Pizza, The X-Files), that Cody holds a special place in her heart. She strongly feels that Cody had the unfortunate case of having several foster parents that either abandoned him or were not fit. But, Natalie insists that the little boy is resilient, and would make a wonderful addition to a family.
The meeting of the new parents and Cody is a cautious one. Cody is very polite, to the point of addressing his new parents by “Mr.” and “Mrs.” And, Jessie and Mark are very gentle, and possibly walking on egg shells as new parents. All appear to seek approval. In fact, before Cody arrives, Jessie suggests that Mark take down all but one picture of their first and only son so as not to make Cody feel uncomfortable. They even go as far as not to check out a private box that Cody brings with him to respect his privacy.
Soon after, it’s revealed that Cody’s secret box contains a book on butterflies, caffeinated soda, and caffeine pills. Cody really likes his new home, and does not want anything to ruin his relationship with his new foster parents. Of course, that does not last. At some point a child needs to sleep and Jessie, while straightening out Cody’s room, discovers the boy’s secret stash.
She lets Mark know, and both agree they need to gently confront Cody and let him feel safe enough to sleep in their home. That is when the strangeness of this little boy comes into play, for in the wee hours of the night, Jessie and Mark witness something remarkable, a roomful of colorful butterflies. Flanagan delivers such a subtle touch to this fantasy element that we cannot help but get wrapped up in the experience.
The butterfly experience, an unusual bug, and eventually the appearance of Jessie and Mark’s long dead son are moments that all deliver chills. The new parents’ discovery is one of wonder and awe, but Mark cannot help but be cautious. Both realize what they are experiencing is very special, but they disagree on how to deal Cody and his abilities.
What starts out as light fantasy methodically turns to quiet horror with the appearance of Cody’s recurring nightmare – that insists on following him wherever he goes…”The Kancer Man”, a vile, white emaciated looking creature with hollow eyes and long talons. If the appearance of this thing is not enough to really look like the stuff of a child’s nightmare, the screech it emits gives one goosebumps.
But, Flanagan and company are not out to deliver just another horror show. Their haunting cautionary tale is filled with mystery and tender moments. Before I Wake is intelligent, lyrical, sweet and scary all throughout its very quick hour and thirty-seven minutes. Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, and Jacob Tremblay all give splendid performances and Mike Flanagan has proved once again that he is not only a new master of suspense and terror, but he is also smart and sensitive, perfectly capable of delivering an exciting device of entertainment. Now, if we can just get this shown in the States.
Currently, Amazon has a Blu-ray Region A/1 available that can be seen on U.S. players, but unfortunately it comes at a hefty price of $69.99. This is ridiculous since I purchased the same Blu-ray on Amazon back in March for $24.99. It should be noted that the disc is from Canada and does not come with extras or chapters, but does provide English subtitles. There are limited numbers of this disc. Amazon now realizes the demand, and has upped the price. It can also be purchased on eBay for just under $50.
An “All Region” Blu-ray, that can be seen on any Blu-ray player, can be purchased on AmazonUK for £17.74 which translates to $23.01. It comes with an English soundtrack with the option of French subtitles, which makes me believe that there are no English subtitles available. It took me sometime to hunt it down since there are various versions of this disc. To make it easier for those interested to catch this unique thriller, you can find it HERE.
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Run Time: 97 Minutes
Distributor: Relativity Media