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Mike Flanagan’s ‘Before I Wake’ is 2018’s First Great Horror Movie

Somewhat ironic, considering Before I Wake was originally a 2015 film.

Not widely released until this past Friday, growing master of horror Mike Flanagan’s “new” film Before I Wake was actually made *before* Flanagan directed recent hits Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush and Gerald’s Game. Believe it or not, filming wrapped way back in 2013, with the movie originally dated for release in 2015… then 2016… and then 2017.

Netflix saved the film from purgatory, premiering it last week.

Ever since Wes Craven brought a dream demon to the screen with A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, the horror genre has been blending nightmares and reality in various different ways. But Before I Wake injects that particular approach with a whole lot of invention, centered on a young boy whose dreams and nightmares manifest in the real world while he sleeps.

Jacob Tremblay stars as the 8-year-old Cody, an otherwise perfect little gentleman who is adopted by Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane’s Jessie and Mark Hobson at the start of the film. Jessie and Mark have recently lost their own child in a tragic at-home accident that still haunts them, but they’re hoping Cody will fill that void in their hearts – if that sounds a bit selfish, know that the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the darkness of that particular desire.

As for Cody, well, it doesn’t take long before he falls asleep… despite his best efforts.

When Cody sleeps, whatever he imagines inside his own head – be it a wonderful dream or a horrifying nightmare – literally manifests itself in the Hobson home. Cody seems to initially be at peace in his sleep, as colorful butterflies appear to Jessie and Mark while they’re lounging on the couch – these “dream” moments are pure magic, as they’re lit, filmed and wonderfully played by both actors as waking dreams that you can’t help but be in sheer awe of. But Cody’s supernatural abilities take a sinister turn when he begins to have nightmares. Cody is terrorized in his sleep by a barely-humanoid creature he refers to as “The Canker Man,” a slender, alien-like being that literally consumes anyone in its path.

The Canker Man is always with Cody, he warns his new parents.

But lest you think Before I Wake is your standard tale of a nightmare creature invading the real world, the brilliance of Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard’s script is that it’s actually an emotionally complex tale of love, loss and the way that our past experiences, well, haunt us in our everyday lives. Without giving anything away, The Canker Man is something more than a dream demon that Cody dreamed up in his worst nightmares; rather, it’s a nightmarish manifestation of the most terrifying, deep-seated moment in the young boy’s past.

Much like Gerald’s Game, Before I Wake is capped off with a heart-wrenching coda that ties the whole thing together and takes everything you’ve just watched to an entirely new level. The film is equipped with one of the strongest final acts you’ll ever see in a horror movie, highlighting what makes Flanagan such a master storyteller in the horror space: his deep, heart-on-his-sleeve empathy for others, and his clear understanding that horror means absolutely nothing without relatable human emotion at the center of it.

Before I Wake is the story of a sad mother who needs a child to love. And a lonely child who needs to be loved by his mother. And it’s another wonderful treat from a new master.

I’d say 2018 is off to a great start, horror fans.

4 Skull Rating



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COMMENTS

59 Comments
  • nowaygetreal

    I thought it was a very mediocre movie, but I’m glad others enjoy it.

  • Colin Perkins

    This was my pick for best horror of 2016. I got it on DVD early in 2017. Came out at that time in Canada. Amazing film.

    • J Jett

      i only just watched it in 2017 but it was easily one of my top 3 favorites of 2017. i just love this movie. 🙂

  • Archer

    It was more dark fantasy drama than horror. Not too bad, but not Flanagan’s best movie either.

  • gary41172

    I really liked Before I Wake. Would I call it a horror movie? No, but it’s more like a drama to me. But still enjoyed it 🙂

  • Matt Miller

    Nahhhh

  • Craig Yeaster

    They like a Flanagan movie at BD! Shocker! What’s next, a good review of a Wingard movie? Maybe some love for Shaech? Who knows what the new year will bring?

  • Hash-Slinging Slasher

    I choked on my coffee when I read that headline.

  • The chicken man

    For me, it was an *ok* movie of 2017.
    😉

  • Kyle Cole

    Tried to watch this on netflix and the movie on there has commentary throughout the whole thing

  • DoopGremlin

    Fantastic film. Wonderfully shot, understated performances, a good score and real, earnest heart. Its melding of fantasy and haunted house is also rather novel.

  • Cameron

    I mean it wasn’t necessarily bad but it was certainly not a horror movie and was thoroughly average and sterile.

  • J Jett

    John Squires i agree w/ you. it’s a weird technicality since i first watched this movie last year but yeah, i freaking love this movie so much. the only thing about it that i don’t love is Kate Bosworth. in every single thing i’ve ever seen her in she just comes off as robotic/cold. she’s ok in this particular film i guess but it’s everyone/everything else about it that is superb. it’s a heartbreaking fantasy film with horror-ish elements and i give it a 9 out of 10 stars.

    • Matt P

      Agreed. I thought Bosworth was a tad sterile but otherwise good. Flanagan is on a wicked hot streak and I’m happy this film is finally available for people to watch. I saw it last year and it made my top 10 list for 2016 which is true for all MF’s films after Absentia with the exception of Ouija which just missed my top 10.

      • J Jett

        i need to watch ABSENTIA. i keep reading from you guys that it’s really good! maybe i’ll watch that tonight!

        • Matt P

          Absentia is worth a watch. I’m more impressed with what they were able to pull off with such a low budget than I am the movie itself. Still, it has some genuinely creepy moments.

    • Matt Graupman

      I was gonna post the same thing about Kate Bosworth. She’s the dullest actress in Hollywood and her “performance” – such as it is – kept taking me out of the movie. Otherwise, I liked “Before I Wake,” although I wish it didn’t rely so much on CGI. Oh well. Flanagan is amazing and I’ll watch everything he does, probably multiple times.

      • J Jett

        right? i don’t hate Bosworth but she’s just kind of there. LOL. she’s gorgeous though.

  • J Jett

    John Squires i forgot to ask, can you add your skulls rating to this review? i can’t stress enough to you guys that having the skull ratings really helps with people who may not have seen the movie you guys are reviewing but still want to get an idea of what you felt about the movie WITHOUT having to read spoilers/possible spoilers. skull ratings are really helpful. 🙂

    • John Squires

      Boom. Done. =)

      • J Jett

        awesome! thanx John. 🙂

  • dsxy

    I like Flanagan’s other work but this has been available on Netflix for ages, apart from some nice visuals it’s dull and easily forgotten. I honestly have no idea how someone can call this one of the best movies of any year.

    I’m pleased others are enjoying it, it’s not terrible and he’s a director I’d like to do well

    • Sam rogers

      Well this year has only been ten days. Not a difficult feat.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    Then is not 2018s first great horror movie

    • J Jett

      well? don’t just make a statement like that with no follow up. what in your opinion IS the first great horror movie of 2018?

      • Vincent Kane

        Paddington 2…

        • J Jett

          LOL. 🙂

  • Munchie Strikes Back

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

  • Cheshire TrollCat

    Truth

  • silverfishimperitrix

    There’s a reason this sat on the shelf for so long. It was pretty boring.

  • Garbageface

    I don’t trust anyone who liked the ending to Gerald’s Game

  • Anthony DeRouen

    Hush was boring, Ouiji sucke, and I fell asleep halfway in Gerald’s game. This director is the master of nothing, but don’t tell BD that.

  • Flanagan is the most overrated director in decades.

  • ARE YOU FUCKING HIGH SQUIRES????

  • sedoi

    I think it’s actually weakest movie from this director.

    • James

      Me too. I picked this one up a year ago and was really disappointed. It starts great but I didn’t like the direction and he really over explains the story at the end.

  • Simon Allen

    It’s better than most of the stuff that came out in 2017 too although it is more of a dark fantasy that a horror and for me it is the best of Flanagans recent movies as I wasn’t too keen on Geralds Game and absolutely hated Ouija – Origin of Evil .
    It does what most horror movies, for me, fail to do which is make you connect on a human level and actually experience the emotions flowing through it .
    I can only imagine that the haters went into this expecting a completely different trip because it is different and original in so many ways and handled just beautifully .

  • Amazing movie, not very horror imho but pretty great

  • Frank Gambino

    I definitely wouldn’t classify it as horror

  • Rob Rosado

    After the flat-out brilliance of “Hush” and “Gerald’s Game”, this was a little… tepid, for me. Still a solid movie with heart and tension. Great visual cues, as always with Flanagan, but just a tad lightweight coming after two really terrific films.

  • CeCe Says Ugonlearntaday

    I LOOOVED THIS MOVIE!!! It was scarily sweet. Hauntingly lovely. You wanted to hug and help each on of the characters. The cinematography was beautiful. the actors were really good in this one also

    • J Jett

      CeCe, well said! i agree 100%.

  • ReaperMike83

    I don’t understand the Mike Flanagan hype train, he’s made some decent horror films but he hasn’t made a film that will go down in history as a classic. I don’t hate his movies and don’t mind anything he’s done but I don’t believe he is on par with the upper echelon of horror filmmakers, yet…. he could very well change my opinion in the future.

  • Dave Galloway

    For once I completely agree with you Squires. Not a horror movie? People getting absorbed by a dream creature isn’t horror? Are you people high?

    • John Squires

      I’m as confused as you are, Dave!

  • Necro

    Watching it tonight so I hope it’s good.

    • J Jett

      Necro, let me know what you think of it! 🙂

  • Vincent Kane

    Average at best.

  • The_Gentleman

    I’ll check this out but I’m on the “Flanagan is average” train with some other people. Gerald’s Game and Hush were both pretty lame.Ouija and Oculus were OK. I liked Abesntia a lot at the time but don’t remember much about it. I don’t get the praise. He’s ordinary.

  • Frank Gambino

    I found the movie to be gay

    • J Jett

      so there were LGBTQ characters and situations in the film?
      DICTIONARY.com
      check that site out. it can be your best friend when it comes to learning new words.

      • Frank Gambino

        Still gay

  • bondagegel

    Not a good film. Flanagan’s weakest.

  • James Tillotson

    So I read this review and all the comments and was very disappointed by so many of you giving bad and often cynical reviews. Then, I watched the movie and man am I disappointed. If you were to tell me the plot of this story, I’d say damn that’s such a cool idea. And when you say it’s by Mike Flanagan, I’d say okay great I love all his work. But the end product is A Nightmare On Elm Street 5 and Case 39’s lovechild. The acting was great, the visuals were stunning, the concept itself is so fascinating. But the pacing is really slow and there are more cliches than some may realize like the shots of the protagonist visiting the mental institution and searching files in hospital basements. I feel like virtually every reaction to emotional situations were strange and as if the director said, “ don’t react to the sight of,your dead son, we’re gonna jump to you making breakfast like you’ve figured everything out overnight.” Again, fascinating idea and I actually love the ending explanation. It’s the mostly 2nd act where it falls apart for me. It the end result is a misfire. Least favorite Flanagan film so far.

    P.S. the concept of the Canker Man is awesome and in theory, franchise worthy. But on film, he looks like the skeleton from a Nightmare Before Christmas and just wasn’t scary. I feel like this could have been so much better.

  • THGhost

    52% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hmmm…

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    • Astrophysics

      this is a good sign

      • THGhost

        Sarcasm?

  • Mayday

    “Mike Flanagan’s ‘Before I Wake’ is 2018’s First Great Horror Movie” – No, it’s not. Visually stunning as usual from Flanagan, but the story is flat and lacks any punch, especially with that lame ending that deflated the whole mystical story.

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