Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, Jacob Tremblay, Annabeth Gish, Dash Mihok, Topher Bousquet, Antonio Evan Romero, Kyla Deaver, Hunter Wenzel, Jay Karnes, Lance E. Nichols
Written by: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content and terror including disturbing images
Running Time: 97
Date: 01/05/2018

Before I Wake (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Butterfly Affecting

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This long-delayed fantasy-horror movie comes from a very talented director, Mike Flanagan, and has some interesting things in it, but it gets off to an awkward, nonsensical start and barely recovers.

In Before I Wake, grieving parents Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) decide to take in a foster child after losing their own son in a tragic accident. The new boy, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), seems polite and sweet, although both he and Jessie are having trouble sleeping. Then, at night, as Cody dreams, Jessie and Mark begin to see butterflies in their living room. This is followed by manifestations of their departed son, Sean, who appears in the house and seems very real.

Jessie tries to tell her grief therapy group about the visits, but her therapist insists it's only in her imagination. Things take a turn for the worse when Cody begins seeing a monster, the Canker Man, and a social worker (Annabeth Gish) poses a threat to the new family's happiness. It's only when Jessie begins to investigate Cody's true past that things begin to add up.

Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Gerald's Game) ordinarily knows how to build a spooky, tense world, often within limited spaces, but with Before I Wake, nothing seems nailed down. The main couple's grief is not dealt with — she's in therapy and he isn't — and it's unlikely that they'd be ready or allowed to adopt a foster child.

This sour note hangs over the entire movie, and not even the sweetness of the fine child actor Tremblay (later the star of Room and Wonder) can lighten the unpleasant sense of fatalism. Essentially, the child is in jeopardy and no adult is in a position to help him, certainly not the long-haired, brooding Mark, nor the snap-judgment social worker.

It's not until late in the movie, when Jessie swings into detective mode — as opposed to parental mode — that the movie's thriller aspect kicks in and things begin to click into place. On a technical level, the movie's CG effects are colorful but chintzy looking, although the "Canker Man" monster is actually pretty frightening.

Best Buy Co, Inc.