Before I Wake

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Before I Wake Movie Poster Image
Weird horror-fantasy has some scary stuff, some sour notes.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 30 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Mistakes have potentially dangerous consequences. Good intentions can't overcome all challenges.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The adoptive parents seem like good, honorable people who are trying to help a child in need. But they don't quite seem ready for the challenge, and they make some mistakes, potentially endangering the child. Jessie attempts to deal with her grief by going to therapy (unlike her husband) and is interested in helping a foster child. When things go wrong, she's the one who doesn't stop searching and trying until the solution is found. But it could be argued that she's also part of the problem.


Child in jeopardy. A man holds a gun; he seems to be pointing it at a child, and he fires a shot but misses. A couple's child has died in a tragic accident (suggested drowning in a tub). A monster, "the canker man," who "eats people," attacks a school bully. Ghosts, scary stuff, monsters. Some blood. Fight with a school bully. People disappear.


A married couple is shown to be comfortable with one another.


Video games mentionedshown: Xbox, Wii, Kinect, etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ambien is mentioned. A child keeps pills and sodas under his bed to stay awake and drinks coffee. A woman gives a child sleeping pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Before I Wake is a fantasy-horror movie about a grieving couple (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane) who adopt a foster child, but then strange things -- such as ghosts and monsters -- start appearing. A child is in jeopardy, and a man fires a gun that was initially pointed at a child. In flashback, a child dies, possibly drowned in a bathtub. Ghosts and monsters attack, and there's some blood and other scary stuff. There's also a fight with a school bully. The young boy is caught with stimulants (i.e. pills and sodas) under his bed so he can stay awake. A woman gives him sleeping pills. Sex and language aren't issues. The movie has many interesting aspects, but it's just a little off, and it never quite rights itself.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymeydiana.rizki October 29, 2020

I scored it 10. Let me tell you why:

Original, Beautiful Film- Not What You Expect

Rarely does a film surprise me at all but this film certainly did. Mike Flannigan created an enigmatic speculativ... Continue reading
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byIz27 April 4, 2020

Totally Underrated

This movie was INCREDIBLE! It's one of my favorite movies EVER, actually. I screamed for the first time in a long time, and I jumped so often it's ins... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCheryl_bombshell December 16, 2019


Good movie some super unrealistic stuff .... child drowns in a 2 inch deep BATHTUB isn’t scary..... some bad words and someone shoots themself soooo... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byAlexisdone September 22, 2018

I enjoyed it. A

It's a horror/fantasy and the acting was great

What's the story?

In BEFORE I WAKE, grieving parents Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) decide to take in a foster child after losing their biological son in a tragic accident. The boy, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), seems polite and sweet, although both he and Jessie are having trouble sleeping. Then, at night, as Cody dreams, Jessie and Mark start seeing butterflies in their living room. This is followed by manifestations of their departed son, Sean, who appears in the house and seems very real. Jessie tries to tell her grief therapy group about the visits, but her therapist insists it's only her imagination. Things take a turn for the worse when Cody begins seeing a monster, the Canker Man, and a social worker (Annabeth Gish) poses a threat to the new family's happiness. It's only when Jessie starts to investigate Cody's true past that things begin to add up.

Is it any good?

This long-delayed fantasy-horror movie comes from a very talented director, Mike Flanagan, and has some interesting aspects, but it gets off to an awkward, nonsensical start and barely recovers. Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Gerald's Game) ordinarily knows how to build a spooky, tense world, often within limited spaces. But in Before I Wake, nothing seems nailed down. The main couple's grief isn't dealt with -- she's in therapy, he isn't -- and it's unlikely that they'd be ready or allowed to adopt a foster child in real life.

This sour note hangs over the entire movie; not even the sweetness of fine child actor Tremblay (who has also starred in Room and Wonder) can lighten Before I Wake's unpleasant sense of fatalism. Essentially, Cody is in jeopardy, and no adult is in a position to help him, certainly not brooding Mark or the snap-judgment social worker. It's not until late in the movie, when Jessie swings into detective mode -- as opposed to parental mode -- that the movie's thriller aspect kicks in and things start clicking into place. On a technical level, the movie's CG effects are colorful but chintzy looking, although the "Canker Man" monster is actually pretty frightening.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Before I Wake's use of violence. Does the movie seem cruel or sympathetic? Is it thrilling or shocking? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Is the movie scary? Is it more of a fantasy or a family drama? Why?

  • How is the school bully depicted? How is he handled? Are there other/better ways of handling bullies?

  • How does the movie view a child taking stimulants, such as soda, pills, and coffee? How does it view a child being given sleeping pills?

  • Does the central couple seem ready to adopt a foster child? What things should be considered before taking such a step? How does the movie depict adoption overall?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate