Netflix produces some strong original content in the horror genre, both for television and film. I watch so many horror movies on Netflix, they tend to bleed together. The tropes, the characters and their motivations, and even the settings, for example, don’t always stick out in the crowd.
I think atmosphere is another area–maybe the most common, in fact–where horror directors, albeit due to genre conventions, are going for the same effects. Claustrophobia, terror, the unnatural… In Before I Wake, director Mike Flanagan sets his film apart by introducing true human sadness, portrayed effortlessly by Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane and the uber-talented child actor Jacob Tremblay.
The word literary comes to mind when I consider this movie. The film works much like some of the best horror literature does: things start off normal and rather beautiful, and then descend into chaos and terror. I rarely even stream movies with a PG-13 rating because I assume it’ll be a typical made-for-theaters-and-teens thriller that Hollywood pumps out.
The PG-13 rating works in Before I Wake.
Maybe the perceived lack of profanity and violence the rating implies softened me up for genuinely lovable characters and their story. Flanagan sets up the characters and the delightful supernatural/magical realist elements with grace. The more expected horror elements are also deep-seated in character, and are genuinely disturbing as opposed to cheap jump scares. The juxtaposition of beauty and horror (which I assure you is terrifying for parents) dazzles here.
I’ll say that the premise and “twist” at the end are magnificent and emotionally resonant. The idea of dreams and nightmares come to life isn’t original in the literal sense, but Before I Wake makes it feel fresh and executes it sublimely. This movie put me into a pretty passive, trusting state, so I can’t say that I tried to figure out what the IMDB reviewers meant by “amazing twist” as I watched, but I promise it’s breath-taking. It isn’t the mind-blowing, world-overturning twist that people tend to imagine. Instead, it’s a tear-jerker and a perfect illustration of the innocence of children. That’s coming from a cynical, crappy horror film-jaded person.
I saw some reviewers complain about certain plot points not making sense or nitpicking on some of the film’s minutiae. But I encourage you to watch Before I Wake with the mindset of a child. Or at least the warm amber simplicity of the childhood lens you think back to when “adulting” really sucks. Allow yourself to spend some time in a place where things can be magical and terrifying.