Mike Flanagan has become perhaps the most recognizable name in horror working these days. He has delivered fantastic movies and series repeatedly, especially with his exclusive deal with Netflix. The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Midnight Mass, and the newly released The Fall of the House of Usher are just the majority of his work there. His movies, like Hush and Gerald’s Game also showed his skill with the genre, especially with the latter, as that Stephen King novel has said to have been unfilmable. Only, one of his movies flew under the radar, even after his breakout hit on Netflix with Hush. Before I Wake was intended to be a theatrical release, but ended up in limbo for a while. It is one of Flanagan’s more fantastical films, but the seeds of his future are seen in it. If you liked The Haunting of Hill House, you will no doubt enjoy Before I Wake.

The history of this movie started back in the spring of 2015, when the first trailer for Before I Wake dropped, expecting a theatrical release later that year. That release came and went without any word on the film, not even a second trailer dropping in that time. Finally, a little over a year later, a new trailer appeared, touting a release for the film in September 2016. Yet again, the release date passed with no distribution of the film. It honestly looked as if there would be no hope for the film. Many thought that it would be shelved for the foreseeable future, and then Netflix came in and saved the day late in 2017, with a January 2018 release of the film, three years after it was supposed to come out.

The studio behind this film, Relativity, is the reason for the delay, as they filed for bankruptcy just as the film was starting its marketing campaign. Flanagan himself explained on the Post Mortem Podcast that they noticed “[they] weren’t getting trailers and posters and materials” for the film, and Relativity became “cagey” in their responses. By the time Flanagan learned about the trouble Relativity was in, there was nothing to do but wait and hope something would happen. The film eventually got an international release (it even has some international physical copies if you wish to import and complete one more section of your Flanagan collection!), but stateside had to wait just a little bit longer before it made its move to Netflix in 2018. Despite its Netflix release, it still flew largely under the radar compared to his other works that took the streamer by storm, yet it is still absolutely worth a watch all these years later.

It would have been a shame if this film had been shelved forever, as it has some of the strongest performances, especially from a very, very young Jacob Tremblay. Of course, we all know him by now. Not only was he in films like Room and Wonder, but he also worked with Mike Flanagan a few years later in his adaptation of Doctor Sleep, where he plays a young baseball player who is taken and brutally murdered by the True Knot, perhaps the most disturbing scene Flanagan has put to the silver screen to date. He may have been young, but Tremblay sells every scene in this movie. From Cody’s shyness in his new family, and slowly opening up to them, to his terror from the Canker Man, the monster that haunts his nightmares.

The two parents are also fantastic. Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane portray a grieving couple trying to find a way to move forward in outstanding performances. A lot of what they are doing is not explicitly said in the film but said through their actions. It’s also clear that both of them are at very different stages in their grief. Jessie still wants to remember their deceased son, as noted when she tells Mark to leave one family portrait on the wall when they had agreed to take down all pictures of their son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero). It is even more clear when Jessie tries to use Cody’s dreams to have time with her son, showing Cody pictures and home movies, so he can create a more perfect mirage of Sean in his dreams. There are also several Flanagan favorites in this film, as always. Annabeth Gish, who you will recognize from The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. Courtney Bell was in Flanagan’s first film, Absentia, as well as Oculus. Flanagan himself even makes a brief cameo in one of the final scenes of this movie!

Though Before I Wake predated The Haunting of Hill House by three years, the two ended up premiering on Netflix the same year. Before I Wake largely flew under the radar, unfortunately. The Haunting of Hill House, however, made a huge splash for Flanagan. Both the film and the series are pretty different in content, but thematically they have a lot of similarities: they are both about grief. The Haunting of Hill House has largely been praised for its portrayal of grief throughout each of the Crain siblings, and it really is a fantastic watch.

Here, Jessie and Mark are struggling to come to terms with Sean’s tragic drowning in the bathtub in their home. No doubt something they blame themselves for. When they bring Cody into their home, they suddenly have a new lifeline to Sean that they didn’t expect, and Jessie tries to keep this going by feeding Cody memories from photos and videos, so he can dream of Sean more realistically. She even goes as far as to drug him once, so he can sleep. Of course, Sean is never really “perfect,” which calls back to a line in the first episode of Hill House: “It’s better than never seeing him again.” The two parents aren’t the only characters harboring grief, Cody is as well. Orphaned at a young age, something happened to his parents, and that might be the key to stopping what is happening in his nightmares. (Beware of spoilers, it is worth going into this film knowing little).

Before I Wake is Flanagan’s take on a Fairy Tale, but be warned, it has just as much bite as his other, more adult works. All the performances are stellar, as is the story. It fits right into his other movies and TV shows and confirms that yes, he’s always had the magic in him. Go watch this film, it will fit right into any Halloween binge you have planned for later this month, and it’s a welcome 90-minute film. Any Flanagan fan (or horror fan) is in for a treat if they haven’t seen this yet.

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