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Review: Before I Wake

Originally set for release in 2015, Before I Wake has been delayed several times, now finally being released as Netflix’s first release of the year. Despite being shelved for a long period, this is a well-executed genre flick that has more on its mind than most similar flicks.

Before I Wake follows Jessie and Mark, a couple who are still trying to move on from the accidental death of their young son. They decide to foster a boy named Cody, but they soon find out that Cody may have some magical powers that could both excite and haunt the family.

To label Before I Wake as a horror film may mislead some audiences, as its more of a supernatural fabel with some horror aspects. Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origins of Evil and Gerald’s Game), deserves a lot of credit for making a film that doesn’t fit into simple classification, nor abides to audience’s expectations of the genre.

Flanagan has been one of the genre’s best directors, and continues to prove so. Few are able to construct horror setpieces with his level of confidence and artistry, building a sense of atmosphere throughout. I love the child-like monster designs that come to life through Cody’s nightmares, as well as the intensity that Flanagan shoots these moments with.

What makes Flanagan such a dynamic talent in the genre is that he understands the importance of dramatic nuance. The film is an allegory for grief and the way that people of all ages process it, and its done so effectively. Early scenes establishing the loss our characters have suffered are smart inclusions, giving the audience an understanding of their pain and longing. I also credit Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard for taking this narrative into some unpredictable territory, as well as creating a satisfying and surprisingly moving conclusion.

Performance-wise, Before I Wake is ahead of most genre films. Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane are great as Cody’s foster parents, both unpacking their grief in naturalistic ways. Both characters are also well-written, with the quarrels they have with each other being genuine and morally-complicated. Jacob Tremblay has proven himself as one of the best child actors around, delivering another solid performance here.

This film has a lot to like and even more to admire considering its focus on drama over cheap scares, but it is certainly uneven. The story lags at points, especially when it focuses more on the horror aspects rather than the characters. While I give Flanagan a lot of credit for his craftsmanship, many of the scares still weren’t able to spook me.

Despite several delays, Before I Wake is a nuanced and well-crafted genre film that achieves most of its lofty ambitions. Certainly worth your time and a more high-profile release.

Grade: B 

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