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before I wake



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A couple who tragically lost their own child, Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth), adopt young Cody (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy who lost his mother (Courtney Bell) and has been bounced from family to family…even abandoned by the most recent one. The Hobsons soon find that Cody has a special ability, his dreams become real. At first they are enchanted as their home is filled with swarms of butterflies and visions of their dead son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero). But, their wonder turns to terror as not all of Cody’s dreams are happy ones and a malevolent entity manifests through them into their home. 

While this may be director Mike Flanagan’s most generic film to date, his skill as a filmmaker makes it better than most of the recent PG-13 horrors that it resembles at times. Co-written with Jeff Howard, the script may be filled with familiar elements, but is given some really nice emotional weight by Flanagan and his cast and he also delivers what most of today’s cookie cutter horrors don’t, some legitimate chills and scares. Flanagan and his actors portray a heartbroken family who still haven’t gotten over the accidental death of their son. They have a chance to regain some of their happiness by adopting a little boy, who has had his own traumatic loses. This alone is well done and we feel for the couple and the boy and on it’s own would suffice as a drama of a special boy finally meeting the right family. But this is no drama, it’s a horror and Flanagan gives us a little boy terrified to go to sleep for visits from “The Canker Man” usually end in someone he cares about vanishing. When this malevolent entity arrives, Flanagan brings out the chills, just as he brings out some more Spielberg-ian wonder when Cody dreams of far more pleasant things, like butterflies and Sean. There is also a nice air of mystery as there is more to Cody’s story and whens it’s investigated, we get some surprising revelations about the boy’s past and who or what this entity is and why it haunts Cody. Again, the story elements may be familiar, like in Flanagan’s Hush, but the skilled filmmaker makes it work. Not everything is perfect. The film does get a little too sentimental for it’s own good at times and yes, some of the spooky imagery has become a little too commonplace in these types of horror to be fully effective. The story also gets wrapped up in a bit too neat of a nice little bow, but the film succeeds far more than it doesn’t. We also get some nice and atmospheric cinematography from Michael Fimognari and an equally effective score by Danny Elfman and The Newton Brothers.

As mentioned, the cast does solid work in support of Flanagan’s story. Bosworth and Jane are very good as the Hobsons. The pain of their loss is portrayed well, especially by Bosworth who’s Jessie is still in therapy and still having a hard time moving on. We almost understand when she manipulates Cody to see Sean again. Jacob Tremblay gives another good performance. We really like Cody and obviously feel sympathy for his fear of sleeping and share his fear when his malevolent dream demon appears. The film also stars Annabeth Gish as an adoption agent who knows a bit more than she tells the couple and Absentia’s Courtney Bell appears in a brief flashback role as Cody’s mom and is very sympathetic in the part.

Overall, this was an entertaining film from a filmmaker who has yet to disappoint. Even with some familiar material and with a lesser aggressive tone than his Hush or Oculus the film gives us some good chills and scares. It’s a film that is meant to be more mainstream friendly than his other work, but he still gives it an intensity and emotional depth most of it’s peers don’t have. Before I Wake may be PG-13, but it’s not aimed at teens like pretty much everything else these days. It’s also not perfect. It sometimes is a bit too familiar and a bit too sentimental, especially in it’s wrap-up. Even so, Flanagan gives us some solid entertainment that far outweighs the common elements that today’s generic horror movies parade out on home media and in theaters to the point of repetitive banality.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 butterflies.

before Iwake rating





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oculus poster


OCULUS (2014)

I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s low budget chiller Absentia so, I was very much looking forward to his next flick which arrives from Blumhouse Productions and is his first big theatrical release. And Mr. Flanagan didn’t disappoint. Supernatural horror starts out introducing us to two siblings, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) Russell. Eleven years ago a horrible incident occurred in their home leaving their mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and father, Alan (Rory Cochrane) dead, with ten year-old Tim incarcerated in an institution. From appearances, Alan murdered his wife and Tim killed him in self defense. It’s over a decade later and Tim has just been released and his older sister has come to help him get back on his feet…and destroy what she claims is the real culprit in their parents’ deaths. After years of treatment Tim sees the murders as a simple case of domestic problems and negative emotions gotten out of control. His father driven to torture and kill their mother and he, forced to defend himself and his sister by killing their dad. A tragic but rational explanation. Kaylie believes it to be the influence of a demonic entity that lives in an antique mirror purchased by their father for his office. While Tim was away, Kaylie has been planning to prove her belief, once and for all, and has tracked down and procured the mirror through her job as an antiques dealer and brought it to their still vacant former home. She convinces Tim to join her on calling out and destroying the sinister force that she believes, from her research, has left a trail of bodies and tortured souls for over 100 years. Is Kaylie delusional and in need of treatment herself, or has Tim’s treatment created a more practical way of rationalizing an even more horrible truth?

Director and co-writer (with Jeff Howard) Mike Flanagan crafts an intelligent, inventive and really creepy horror film that certainly has it’s share of out-right scares, especially in it’s last act. But much like his spooky Absentia, Flanagan never bludgeons us over the head with the horror and thus keeps it effective by keeping us from getting numb to it. As with his previous flick, he doesn’t give us everything at once and plays with our heads for a bit as to whether Kaylie is creating a supernatural fantasy to avoid the realities of the domestic horror she witnessed, or is Tim candy-coating the nightmarish truth with the psycho-babble fed him by his doctors? The film is a moderately paced, but has a constantly unnerving and creepy build-up, as the siblings delve deeper into the events that occurred over a decade ago. Flanagan…who also edited…deftly mixes in flashbacks to those horrible events and seamlessly blends them so that at times they all seem to be happening at the same moment and in the same space. It’s really disturbing as we try to figure out if these two are finally reliving and facing what happened, or is there an evil presence in that mirror that is happy to make them experience again the memories that torment them most. It’s in the last act where the full truth is revealed and I will say no more except to be ready for the film to deliver the goods when the time is right.

It’s an intense and scary ride Flanagan takes us on to get our answers, made all the more effective due to the skilled and disturbing build-up by a director who makes good on his potential. Again, Flanagan also has an underlying theme about the effects traumatic events have on our lives. With Absentia it was the emotional effects of a missing loved one and not knowing their fate. Here it is growing up and living with the trauma of witnessing domestic abuses and violence. He weaves these into his story subtly so they are not intrusive to the plot, but they are there. And speaking of subtlety, that is one of the things I like about Flanagan’s work and especially with this film, he knows when to be subtle and when to get intense and he does both here to maximum effect. Sometimes less is more and Flanagan’s instincts are good at knowing when to feed us an underlying creepiness and when to outright scare the pants off us. It’s what makes Oculus work so well and made Absentia such a treat. He knows what degree to feed us the films elements and when. He is also clever with his use of the traditional elements so, they appear fresh.

The director also gets good work from his cast with Gillan and Sackoff really standing out here with strong performances, but the acting is solid all the way around. No one ever goes over the top, even when the film is in full scare mode, the performances stay grounded and thus more effective. He got good work out of Katie Parker and Courtney Bell (who has a cameo) in his last film and seems to have a knack for writing and directing strong female characters that aren’t stereotypes or caricatures.

The film is not perfect, but it’s flaws are very minor and I loved that when the blood does flow, it was practical effects as did a lot of the make-up and effects seem to be. If digital was used, it was excellently rendered so it was not noticeable which, in a film like this, is the way it should be. CGI ghosts and blood are not scary.

Overall, I really enjoyed Oculus and how it was equally effective in it’s subtle moments as it was in the more intense ones. It never overloaded you with plot elements or the horror elements and fed you the answers to it’s mysteries gradually so it held your attention till it was ready to let you have it…and the final act does exactly that. A smart, disturbing and sometimes downright scary horror from Mike Flanagan. Also stars Annalise Basso and Garett Ryan as young Kaylie and Tim, respectively and these two youngsters can act.

3 and 1/2 spooky mirrors.

oculus rating




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Absentia is a creepy and subtle horror flick that starts out like a traditional haunting movie and turns into quite something else. After her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for 7 years, Tricia (Courtney Bell) is set to have him declared dead and then try to move on with her life. Joined by her troubled sister Callie (Katie Parker), Tricia is reluctantly ready to start moving forward again when she suddenly starts having hallucinations of her husband who seems to be quite angry about being declared dead and that his wife is now pregnant from an involvement with the police officer (Dave Levine) who was investigating the case. But those hallucinations are only the beginning of what seems to be a surreal nightmare that both sisters are at a loss to explain…though they may not like the explanation if they find it.

Absentia is a very effective low budget chiller from writer/director Mike Flanagan who not only crafts an interesting tale of missing people and what might happen to them, but also touches on the emotional struggle of those left behind. Flanagan maintains an atmosphere of dread and even cleverly leaves enough doubt in our minds to keep us on edge as to whether this is a product of denial and emotional distress, or is it really the work of something else…something supernatural.

To say anymore would ruin a really enjoyable and spooky low budget horror that is refreshingly back to basics and knows that sometimes less is more. Though, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Flanagan also gets some really down to earth and strong performances out of leading ladies Bell and Parker which really helps in giving the audience an emotional investment in what is transpiring, which aids in making this cool low budget film work. Mike Flanagan is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Also starring Doug Jones (Hellboy series, Pan’s Labyrinth) in a small role.

3 solid spooked sisters!

absentia rating