Before I Wake follows a grieving couple (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane) recovering from the loss of their young son. As they attempt to salvage their marriage, the couple adopts another young boy (Jacob Tremblay) who has the ability to manifest his dreams. After coming to terms with the child's power and facing the moral dilemma of abusing it, the couple is faced with the reality that his nightmares manifest as well.
Before I Wake Review
I'm genuinely unsure what my final sentiment is towards this movie. Overall, I loved it, but I loved it in spite of its overwhelming similarities with "traditional mainstream horror". Yes, I often bash this vein of the horror genre, because in general it's predictable and unoriginal. This film manages to be a great dark tale that is woven with cliche threads in its production tropes. It makes it difficult to judge.
If held at gunpoint, I'd praise the film. I think that's what it comes down to. It is a one-and-a-half-hour contradiction of an engaging story held in check with mundane storytelling. It follows the formula of the slow build with the eventual history lesson (usually given by a past survivor of the ordeal in a psych ward) and the climactic finale. Thankfully, everything in between is a cohesive dreamscape of beauty and terror.
Jacob Tremblay (Room) does a great job as the troubled boy with an amazing gift. His tale is like a dark, horror-driven version of A Monster Calls, where we see the light and dark side of a child's imagination. The manifestations of his dreams are simple and don't stretch the imagination, but each moment of his corporeal dreams is purposeful and relevant to his character. It makes the whole thing all the more poignant.
Bosworth and Jane are serviceable, rarely delving into the emotion of their turmoil as it lays dormant for a majority of the film, opting for quiet passive-aggressiveness and the occasional outburst. Despite its intermittent awkwardness, I appreciated the change of pace, as we see a couple coping with their trauma together rather than "separating". Seriously, every movie where a child dies, the parents are separated when the movie begins. This one actually shows a relationship trying to salvage itself. The dynamic is missed in a lot of other films with a similar cornerstone in the premise.
Before I Wake throws a lot of darts at the board. It hits the drywall quite a few times, but pegs the bullseye just as much. My confused emotions in the waning moments only furthered my love for the film, for if it can conjure my deepest attention, it must be doing something right. It used horror in an effective and creative way to pull me into a dramatic story. It's what I always look for in a film. It was still missing that edge to separate it from the mainstream, but I'm trying to look past it and appreciate it for the ways it broke the mold.
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 7/10