'Before I Wake': A Movie Review
The film opens with an obviously distraught man holding a gun, intensely watching a sleeping young boy. Heavy footsteps and high pitched screeching sounds are coming through the open bedroom door and we catch glimpses of butterflies through a window; the film's representation of good and evil. The man points the gun at the boy, "I'm sorry, Cody."
I immediately ask, what horrible thing did this little kid do to warrant this action?
Mark and Jessie Hobson are a young couple who, after mourning the loss of their son, Sean, and learning they can't have more children of their own, have decided to try fostering.
Cody, a young boy whose mother passed away when he was only three, has been chosen to be their first foster child. He had been in two previous foster homes that didn't work out, the last one leaving Cody to live alone for approximately a month before neighbors called the police and Cody was returned to the system. Although Cody has had to endure so much at only eight years old, he still has a positive outlook and chooses not to think of himself as a victim. Because of their mutual history of loss, this leads to Cody's social worker feeling like the Hobson's would be the perfect couple to be his new foster family.
As the couple prepares their home for Cody's arrival, they choose to remove all but one photo of Sean, a family portrait.
Cody's introduction to his new home and potential new family is a smooth one. He immediately notices the photo of Sean but doesn't question them about the absence of the young boy. We learn that Cody is a collector of butterflies and loves to research them, a key component of his story. He's also hiding a secret, he uses energy drinks and caffeine pills to stay awake at night. When Jessie asks him why he has these items, he tells her about the Canker Man, "he eats people, he ate my mom". Jessie does her best to reassure him that he's safe and that the Canker Man won't be able to find him in his new home, "he's always with me. He told me".
Our first proper introduction to the butterflies comes quickly after Jessie and Cody's talk at bedtime. Beautiful butterflies appear seemingly out of nowhere while Mark and Jessie are in the living room, and as quickly as they appear, they disappear. This is the same night we get a glimpse of a thin white figure in the background of a shot, the Canker Man, and the first time Jessie sees Sean.
We quickly learn that Cody has a very special ability, whatever he dreams comes to life. This is the reason Cody does everything he can to stay awake; from the aforementioned energy drinks and caffeine pills to snapping a rubber band around his wrist. He understands that if his mental state is good and he has good dreams then the butterflies appear, and for the Hobson's, Sean also appears. But if he's had a bad day or is upset about something, his dreams go dark and the Canker Man appears, and people begin to disappear.
The next night, a sleeping Cody brings another appearance of butterflies and Sean. This time Jessie and Mark both see him and are able to touch and even hug Sean. As soon as Cody wakes, the butterflies and Sean vanish, leaving Cody remorseful and apologetic for his brief slumber.
As Cody learns more about Sean, the visions Mark and Jessie have of him while Cody sleeps becomes more detailed and mimic the knowledge that Cody has of Sean.
As Jessie longs for next the visit, Mark is more apprehensive, feeling like they're taking advantage of Cody and his abilities. Fueled by the need to see Sean more, Jessie convinces a co-worker, a doctor, to prescribe a sleeping pill for Cody. Without Mark's knowledge or approval, Jessie slips Cody the sleeping pill, only to learn the hard way what horrors Cody's dreams can manifest.
After the night of real-life horror brought on by the sleeping pills, Jessie goes on a quest to find out as much information about Cody's past as possible; his previous foster parents and biological mother. The information she learns helps her to fully understand the origin of the butterflies and Canker Man and how she can help him understand them. As she told him on the night he arrived at their home, "sometimes scary things go away when we understand them a little".
Throughout the movie, no matter how bleak things had gotten, no matter how many people had vanished due to Cody's abilities, Jessie never lost her faith and growing love for him. She went out of her way to help Cody see that even though things had been bad, there still can be a happy ending.
Behind the Scenes
Director / Writer / Editor
William D Johnson
Although he can be seen as the bad guy of sorts, I liked the character of Cody. At first, I found myself analyzing him. Was his sweet demeanor genuine or was he using it to manipulate the Hobson's? I quickly determined that he was indeed a sweet young boy and this character was played very well by Jacob Tremblay.
Coming into this family with a lot of baggage; losing his mother at the tender age of three and then being in foster homes that "didn't work out", is enough to make any kid have a pretty poor outlook on life. But, other than that pesky little thing about his dreams coming to life, he seems to maintain a rather positive attitude.
Tremblay's portrayal of Cody was wonderful. It can be difficult to find young actors who are able to convey believable emotion, but I thought that he did a superb job. I hope to see more from this young man in the future.
The most memorable quote for me was Cody telling Jess about the Canker Man and that "he's always with me".
I like this quote, not for the wording itself, but because for the majority of this film it's tied to something sinister and evil, but when we learn of its origin, we find that it actually came from a place of great love.
I enjoyed the back-story of both the butterflies and the Canker Man, and what they symbolize for Cody now. Even though he may not have many memories of his mom, because she passed away when he was so young, he remembers enough to know that the butterflies are a beautiful thing and it's a great way to show how he still remembers the love he felt for her. He also remembers just enough of the bad that his mind created this horrible monster, the Canker Man.
One of the things that keeps me on my toes while watching a thriller/horror movie is catching a glimpse of the antagonist in the background of shots; a face in the window or even a crossing shadow while the main focus of the scene is on other characters. There were a few places throughout this movie, especially in the beginning, that had those elements but I think they could've added just a few more. And although I'm not a big fan of over-used jump scares, this movie could've used a few more too.
There were a few scenes that didn't quite have the shock value that I think they were shooting for, and I wasn't particularly "on the edge of my seat" with this movie, but as a whole, I enjoyed it.
Would I Recommend?
Although it wasn't the heart-pounding thriller I was hoping for, it was still a good film. I have recommended it since watching it.
So, on my scale of "Buy/Theater/Rent/Netflix", I'd have to say I wouldn't buy it, but it's definitely worth a theater ticket.
My Other Reviews
- 'Hush' (2016) A Movie Review
My review of the thriller/horror movie 'Hush' on Netflix.
How Would You Rate 'Before I Wake'?
Questions & Answers
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