It’s brave of writer/director Mike Flanagan to make sleep such a central part of Before I Wake’s story, as it practically begs critics to make snide comments about how the movie failed to keep them awake.
The latest “Netflix Original Movie,” which is actually a leftover from the now-defunct Relativity Media that’s been held on a shelf for years, is a complete bore. Flanagan, who has emerged as one of horror’s most interesting newcomers with effective thrillers like Hush, Oculus, and last year’s Gerald’s Game, would have been better off had this film stayed in whatever vault it was hiding in.
If Flanagan has succeeded in anything over the course of his young career, it’s been his ability to make compelling narratives out of simple premises. But he doesn’t give himself much to go on here.
Before I Wake follows a couple that, after the untimely death of their son, takes in a foster child with a sleeping defect. The little boy (Jacob Tremblay, in a role filmed before Room), has a dark past, and warns his parents that “bad things” happen when he sleeps. Of course, they don’t listen. Lo and behold, once the kid goes to sleep, his dreams – which are always horrific nightmares – come to life around him, attacking those closest to him. How will the parents survive?
And, really, why should we care?
It’s not that the mythology of Before I Wake is uninteresting; it’s just that the story is told in such a dull, uninspired way, making it impossible to become invested. It’s almost as if everyone involved in the production, both in front of and behind the camera, knew this film would sit on a shelf for years before being dumped onto a streaming service during the first week of January.
As the child’s terrified foster parents, Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane give such lifeless performances that their characters barely resemble real human beings, let alone protagonists we’re supposed to root for. Bosworth, who is given the more dramatic material as her character grapples with depression following the death of her son, is especially unimpressive here. Her lack of emotion drains the tension out of every scene, especially in the film’s stilted finale.
But the cast can’t bear all the blame, as Flanagan doesn’t inject his usual creativity into the scary scenes at all. There are a handful of effective scares, most of them early in the film. But eventually these scary scenes are either telegraphed to the audience or robbed of genuine suspense. The movie also explains its mythology to the audience in an annoying, exposition-filled sequence that delivers one genuinely chilling image, but wraps it up in an underwhelming backstory that’s hard to follow. And, due to a mixture of bad direction and underwhelming acting, the film’s final scene is a tonal mess – is it meant to be happy, or creepy? It’s hard to tell and, even worse, impossible to care.
All jokes aside, it’s unfortunate that Before I Wake was held on a shelf for so long. Flanagan obviously put a lot of hard work into creating this film, and art always deserves more than being kept away due to burdensome financial troubles.
But, regardless of the effort put into it, this is a bad film, and a boring one at that. This is the sort of weak film that barely warrants conversation – it’s poorly made, but inoffensive. On Netflix alone, there are hundreds of other, better alternatives to watch. So, everyone involved in its production can just move on to their next projects, while audiences should just keep scrolling until they come across something else.
Before I Wake is now streaming on Netflix.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 10