Thursday 2 November 2017

Before I Wake

Am Mad Butterfly

Before I Wake
USA 2016 Directed by Mike Flanagan
Intrepid Pictures German Blu Ray Zone B 

I don’t know how I managed to miss this one last year.

I first became aware of  Before I Wake earlier in the year when Varese Sarabande released a very limited pressing of the score on CD. Since it was by The Newton Brothers and had themes by Danny Elfman, I figured I’d pick it up in advance of the inevitable cinema release of the film. However, I then started wandering the internet and realised that it had already been out at the cinema in this country... according to the IMDB it got released in the UK in April of 2016 so, since I like the odd horror movie or two, I am surprised I totally missed this one when it came out. Especially since it was written and directed by Mike Flanagan.

Flanagan is someone who I have a weak track record with at the moment. I saw his Occulus movie with Karen Gillan (which also had a cool score by The Newton Brothers) and I wasn’t much impressed. Nor was I tempted to go and see his prequel to the US version of Ouija after the original movie had been so dire (although I’m told Flanagan’s movie is pretty good). I did, however, love one of his first features, Absentia (which I reviewed here) and so once I’d found out this was by him, I felt on more familiar territory than when I watched the trailer... which makes the film look like a glorified version of that old tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Which it kinda is, actually, with just a little more window dressing.

I ordered a German Blu Ray for the princely sum of £6 because the UK doesn’t have a Blu Ray release of this yet and, if the marketing of this movie continues in the way it has, I doubt if we could expect one anytime soon, either.

The film itself stars Kate Bosworth as Jessie and Thomas Jane as Mark, a bereaved mother and father who have lost their only child, a son, in a freak drowning accident in their bathtub. So they have decided to adopt a child, which is where their new foster son Cody, played by Jacob Tremblay, enters the picture. Cody has had a number of troubled placements with previous families and we already get more than a hint of just how troubled they were from a pre-credits sequence showing one of the previous foster fathers going to shoot Cody dead in bed.

Now, one of the nice things about this movie is that there are no twists around the corner for you to puzzle over and, inevitably, be disappointed in when you get them an hour before the end of the piece. Instead, everything is up front and out in the open so it’s not that long before Cody, who tries to stay up without falling asleep every day and night, falls asleep and the things of his dreams are manifested to those closest to him, in this case his new foster parents. At the start this seems a benign gift rather than the curse it appears to be later... he dreams of beautifully colourful butterflies and they appear to Jessie and Mark until he wakes up. After a few more nights of this strange behaviour where he gets more surreal in his dreaming of the butterflies as his impression of them grows (there’s a nice scene with brightly coloured ‘light bulb butterflies’, for example), things start to get a little out of hand as he dreams up Jessie and Mark’s dead son. Rather than report all this, though, in a stunning display of unbelievable stupidity from the central protagonists, the couple decide to accept these occurrences as fairly normal, rather than go through the obvious denial and evidence gathering stage.

Mark realises, after a few visitations, that it’s not really his dead son but Cody’s imagination toppling out of his mind. Jessie, however, wants to carry on with theses manifestations so she gets a doctor to prescribe her child some sleeping pills for the evening. Alas, what she doesn’t know is that Cody also has a monster that eats people living in his head and it's this which brings the peril right into Jessie and Mark’s house....

And that’s as far as I going with the story set up, other than it’s got no twist ending (as I said earlier) and it’s a fairly straight forward arc to the end, especially when it strays away from that Monkey’s Paw angle a little. Another thing that’s nice about it in terms of the story is that, although it’s not particularly twisted or unpredictable, it does do a couple of things at certain points which are not the usual things you would see in a cosy, American horror movie. There are genuine sacrifices made by the characters at specific moments and that gives the film a lift in certain places where, honestly, it sometimes needs them.

The only weakness I could find was the muffled and unrealistic reaction the main adult protagonists have on finding out their new foster son dreams things alive but if you are okay with this, then some of the surreal imagery, like the two light bulb butterflies who swarm together with many others and become the demonic eyes of some nightmare creature, are quite rewarding. Also, the director resists the usual Hollywood horror fetish of constantly moving the camera around like you’re on a roller coaster ride. There are loads of static or extremely slow tracked/panned/zoomed shots in this and it gives the film a nice leisurely pace. Whether that’s necessarily a good thing for a horror movie to possess is something which is perhaps better left for another discussion but it makes a change from some of the other stuff you see in modern horror movies so I felt this was a good move.

And yes, the score by The Newton Brothers and Danny Elfman is pretty good as a stand alone lesson and certainly appropriate as you get into the movie. Again, it’s not ‘quite’ your typical horror movie scoring sessions here although, as I’ve said a few times above, it does have its moments.

Before I Wake is not the best Mike Flanagan movie I’ve seen, for sure. Absentia still takes my number one spot in terms of that. It is, however, fairly good fun and if you like low key horror movies with not too many scares (it has to be said) but a nice tone and some inventive creations thrown in, then this is probably a film you’ll be okay with. I’m now wondering if it’s time I tried to find this director’s other feature that I haven’t seen before, Hush. Maybe I’ll try to catch up with that one next.

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