Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake

What if when someone went to sleep, whatever they dreamt of at night manifested in the space around them as real, tangible and sometimes very dangerous apparitions ? This concept and much more is explored in Mike Flanagan’s sensational Before I Wake, a film that somehow slipped past my radar back in 2016 but I caught up with it last night and, like most of Flanagan’s output, fell in love with this story. There’s just something so clear, emotionally resonant, palpably scary and well woven about this guy’s horror work in cinema and television, he’s my new muse in the genre. This tells the story of a very special young boy called Cody (Jacob Tremblay from Room and Doctor Sleep), who has the elemental power to project his dreams as reality when asleep. This can be both beautiful and terrifying because, like any human being, he has both good and bad dreams. His gift makes it hard to stay with one foster family for long before things get out of hand, until one couple (Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth), already grieving the loss of their own child, decide to take him in. At first it’s just butterflies that inhabit their house when he sleeps, but he has a recurring phantom who won’t leave him alone, a gaunt, gnarly fiend he calls The Canker Man, and this dude is anything but harmless. Bosworth and Jane wrestle with their own suffering while trying to help him and figure out the esoteric properties of his gift before his demons spread. Bosworth is a quiet, observant actress not prone to dramatic histrionics or screen mugging, she has deep, soulful eyes and a drawn nature that hides emotional wells beneath and I enjoyed her work greatly here. Jane is the paradigm of gruff, alpha exteriors and doesn’t often get roles that showcase his vulnerable side but he’s fantastic here, laidback with emotion simmering on low. Tremblay is just pure talent, representing my hometown solidly and doing a terrific job here, as always. The cast is full of wonderful genre faces including Annabeth Gish as a compassionate social worker, Jay Karnes as a grief therapy counsellor, Courtney Bell and the always memorable Dash Mihok as a tortured former foster dad of Cody’s. I love films themed on dreams, especially in and around the horror genre and this is an exceptional piece. It’s scary, cerebral, character based, beautifully lit with splendid special effects and one gut punch of a twist ending that will get your tear ducts going in overdrive and is a showcase example of inspired storytelling. I have yet to see less than excellent work from Flanagan and his team, this being one of the best.

-Nate Hill

Absentia: A Review by Nate Hill 

You’ll think twice about taking that shortcut through through the tunnel on your way home from work after watching Absentia, a spooky little indie with its heart in the right place and the filmmaking talent to back it up. There’s a tunnel that’s home to some unspeakable scuttling fiend in a local neighborhood, and two sisters who live nearby, as well as a few unfortunate other folks, stray directly into it’s path. Pregnant Tricia (Courtney Bell) and her younger sister Calley (Catherine Parker) are just trying to get by, literally and figuratively, but every routine trip into this hellish part of the neighborhood ends in disappearances, freaky apparitions from a spindly Doug Jones, this time not playing the monster, and tragic loss of life. I won’t give away what the threat is or what it even looks like (you’ll piss your pants), and such is the beauty of a minimalist scarefest like this. You go in not knowing much beyond the hype or word of mouth, and have your pants scared off. There’s a wonderfully atmospheric score at play here, no psycho strings of operatic swells, the film instead favoring a quiet, emotional melody that contrasts the extremely bleak story arc and grim happenings rather nicely. Jones is the only prolific actor we see here, but his work amounts to not much more than a cameo anyway, the brunt landing on our two protagonists, and a local detective (Dave Levine) who assists them, and they all give very solid efforts. The tunnel is a pure unbridled nightmare though, the fates of those who wander in something that you pray never happens to anyone ever, as you cling to whoever is closest to you on the couch (or bed, preferably). Horror should illicit some empathy from viewers as well as scare them, which will in turn be more disturbing for all. This little baby does just that with it’s characters, truly making you feel sorrow and dread for these poor people and their predicament, adding to the creep factor. A gem.