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Film / Before I Wake

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Before I Wake, also known as Somnia, is a 2016note  American dark fantasy horror film directed and edited by Mike Flanagan and co-written by Flanagan and Jeff Howard. The film stars Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, Jacob Tremblay, Annabeth Gish, and Dash Mihok.

Cody Morgan is an eight-year-old boy who desperately needs a family, having been in and out of the foster care system since he was barely a toddler. Mark and Jessie Hobson seem to be the perfect match, as they are trying to move on from the death of their own child Sean, who was the same age as Cody when he drowned in the bathtub. Cody is quiet, polite, and well-mannered, but he has a very special gift.

When he sleeps, his dreams manifest in the real world. Most of them are peaceful and beautiful, reflecting his love of butterflies, but like any eight-year-old, he has nightmares—night terrors that manifest as a sinister entity he calls the Canker Man...

This film contains examples of:

  • Apologises a Lot: Cody apologises to his caretakers everytime he wakes up, knowing his dream manifestations can be upsetting.
  • Asleep in Class: Cody starts nodding off in class due to his efforts to stay awake. His teacher allows him to take a nap in a darkened classroom over lunchtime. This goes badly for Tate the bully.
  • Asshole Victim: Tate is a jerk to Cody for no other reason than he looks like easy prey, so it feels more like sweet justice when the Canker Man gets him while Cody is napping in the classroom.
  • The Assimilator: The Canker Man kills by absorbing people into its body. Ghoulish echoes of the victims then become manifestations of Cody's dreams.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mark, Tate, and the previous caretaker's wife are still gone after being taken by the Canker Man, and Jessie is still dealing with the loss of Sean, but she and Cody have a better understanding of Cody's abilities, Jessie seems to be finally starting to properly heal, and Cody appears to be gaining control over his manifestations.
  • Caffeine Failure: After several nights of drinking soda and popping caffeine pills in a desperate bid to stay awake, Cody's brain shuts down anyway without him realizing it. When school bully Tate who had been taken by the Canker Man the day before manifests and tries to drag him under the bed, Cody screams, "I'm awake! This can't be happening!" over and over.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Early on, when Jessie learns that Cody has nightmares, she assumes they're the mundane kind and tells him a story from when she was a little girl and believed that a witch would come by her window at night and scrape her long fingers against the window, frightening young Jessie. When she looked into things a bit more and found out that the witch's long fingers were actually the branches of a nearby tree, the witch went away and never came back. Jessie later uses similar (though more extensive) investigative methods to uncover the truth of the Canker Man and make him go away.
  • Cooldown Hug: Jessie, to the Canker Man, when she confronts him with her new knowledge about what he is. In her embrace, the Canker Man shrinks down and turns into a manifestation of Cody.
  • Death of a Child: Your child drowns accidentally in the bathtub, leaving you constantly wondering if there was something you could have done to prevent it.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Tate might be a perpetually angry bully to Cody, but he probably didn't deserve whatever grim fate the Canker Man had in mind for him. Though its up to viewwers.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Suggested by the final scenes, when Jessie tells him a story where he may eventually be able to get proper control over his abilities and bring back Mark and Tate from wherever they are.
  • Eye Scream: Cody's humanoid nightmare manifestations have sunken, black pits for eyes.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Cody's manifested butterflies turn into black biting flies when the Canker Man shows up.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "I am always with you." At first, this seems to imply that Cody will never be able to escape the Canker Man. However, this turns out to have been his biological mother's last words to him before she died of cancer, turning something foreboding into something intended to be loving and reassuring.
    • When Cody dreamed his first foster mother, she was doll-like; he was too young to remember her properly. Like his dying biological mother turned into a monster in his mind.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Canker Man, an emaciated, sexless humanoid that forms out of a swarm of moths and absorbs people and spawned from Cody's repressed memories of his cancer-stricken biological mother.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: The insects that represent Cody's nightmares and the Canker Man are moths that contrast with the Pretty Butterflies, and unlike real moths are capable of biting people.
  • Mama Bear: When foster care removes Cody from the Hobsons' home, Jessie is determined to get him back and find a way to deal with the Canker Man once and for all, possibly to make up for being unable to save Sean. This marks a major turning point for her, as previously she was using Cody to manifest visions of Sean rather than truly making an effort to move on from his death.
  • Meaningful Name: The Canker Man's name, originating from a childlike mispronunciation of the word 'cancer'.
  • Mundane Utility: Jessie uses Cody's dream manifestations to play lifelike home movies, which her husband calls her on.
  • Never Sleep Again: An interesting variation, as Cody's nightmares don't exclusively target him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jessie gives Cody a powerful sedative so he'll sleep after the incident at school. This results in the Canker Man having free reign of the house and Cody being impossible to wake up, resulting it it absorbing Mark. Cody is then taken away from Jessie because it's assumed she's in an abusive relationship (the Canker Man smacked her across the face while absorbing Mark), setting up the final act.
  • Not What It Looks Like: When Cody is given a sedative and the Canker Man comes after Jessie and Mark, Mark tries to slap him awake, only to fail because the sedative is too powerful. Social Services sees the bruise and assumes Cody has been abused, so they take him away.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: Cody has frequent night terrors about the Canker Man, whom he believes took his birth mother (technically true), to the point where he tries to load up on caffeine and other stimulation to avoid sleeping at all in order to prevent the entity from manifesting and taking people away in real life.
  • Power Incontinence: Cody has no control over his ability to manifest his dreams in the real world, but it is possible to control what manifests and how... except for the Canker Man. In the end, he is able to banish the Canker Man, and it is implied that he is gaining control of his abilities when he manifests a butterfly while awake.
  • Pretty Butterflies: Cody's more pleasant dreams manifest as flocks of butterflies, reflecting his own love for the insects instilled in him by his birth mother, though he doesn't properly remember it.
  • Slap Yourself Awake:
    • Cody's attempts to avoid falling asleep include pinching his own arm very hard during the day.
    • Mark tries this with Cody to save himself and Jessie from the Canker Man, but Cody's been given such a heavy dose of sedative that even a hard slap barely brings him around for two seconds before he passes out again.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Narrowly averted. At the beginning of the movie, Cody's previous caretaker comes extremely close to shooting the sleeping child, but he is in tears and clearly warring with himself. He hesitates long enough for Cody's latest dream manifestation (unseen, but probably the Canker Man) to attack him.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The dream manifestations... for better or worse.