Most people think butterflies are pretty and completely harmless, but Lepidopterophobia, the fear of butterflies really is a thing. It sort of makes sense when you consider the traditional association between butterflies and the souls of the dead. Technically, it is a death’s head hawkmoth in Silence of the Lambs, but we’ll still give them that one. Young Cody Morgan is a butterfly lover, but he will turn his foster parents Lepidopterophobic in Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake (trailer here), which finally gets an American release via Netflix, starting today.
Mark and Jessie Hobson are still grieving the loss of their little boy Sean, but they believe they are ready to be foster parents. On paper, Morgan would be a perfect fit for them, because they all know tragedy. His single-mother died at an early age and he experienced mysterious mishaps in his subsequent foster homes. Unfortunately, what happened to his previous fosters will soon start happening to the Hobsons.
It begins with the strange but ostensibly beautiful manifestations of butterflies while Morgan is asleep. However, as he becomes interested in his late pseudo-predecessor, Sean starts to appear before his stunned parents. Somehow, Morgan has the power to project his dreams into the waking world. Jessie Hobson finds it a solace, but her husband suspects it is deeply unhealthy. Regardless, Morgan always struggles to stay awake, because he knows something sinister and Slender Man-ish also haunts his dreams.
It is a shame Wake was caught up in the bankruptcy Hell of its original distributor, because it is a mature and deeply resonant film, especially by horror genre standards. Fortunately, Flanagan is still well on his way to being a genre brand-name, thanks to his terrific Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game and the expectation-exceeding Ouija prequel, Origin of Evil. However, Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane do some of their best work as the Hobsons, so they really missed out not getting a wide theatrical release.
There are plenty of horror movies that use the death of a child as its catalyst, but Flanagan & Jeff Howard’s screenplay addresses it with uncompromising honesty. You can see in the performances of Jane and Bosworth that this couple is still hurting. In a small but memorable role, Jay Karnes adds an authoritative but compassionate tone to the film, as Jessie Hobson’s support group leader.
There are definitely some scary moments in Wake, but there are also strong elements of psychological mystery. If you like horror, but your family or roommates don’t, this might be one you could sneak past the gatekeeper. It is a quality film, so it is nice to finally have it available for consumption in the U.S. market. Enthusiastically recommended for horror and dark thriller fans, Before I Wake starts streaming today (1/5) on Netflix.