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A suburban family is held hostage and terrorized by three intruders while their sixteen year-old daughter first hides, then exacts her own brand of terror on the assailants. Written by
Christopher Landry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I didn't have any high expectations when I rented this, but figured it was worth a shot. And indeed, "If I Die Before I Wake" was a surprise. There were some flaws, but overall, this was a very tense film.
The movie opens only minutes before the carnage begins. It is night, and we see the mother and father of the house in their room, the mother asleep, the father dozing off over a book. Their son, Ben, is on the computer and listening to some music. Their younger daughter Mary is asleep, and across from her, their older daughter Lori Beth is, too. Then a handful of robbers break in. Lori Beth is the first to realize, and thinking quick, hides herself and her sister, but it is too late for the rest of the family, who are held captive and terrorized. It is up to Lori Beth to try to escape with Mary, but she soon realizes the only escape is to fight back....
Indeed, the plot is somewhat familiar. "Last House on the Left," "I Spit On Your Grave, "House By the Lake" aka "Death Weekend," "The Desperate Hours," and so on and so forth, all have similar elements. But "If I Die Before I Wake" doesn't steal from them as much as one would think it would. In fact, this film has some fairly original and interesting ideas, and above all, it maintains quite a bit of tension, from beginning to end.
Clocking in at only 77 minutes, this movie wastes no time, and surprisingly enough, that may be its biggest flaw. We don't know anything about any of these characters, and only grow to worry about the family. When the film first begins, and the robbers break in, we have no emotion towards any of the characters involved. If ten or fifteen minutes were taken to establish characters, as well as the robbers/killers/lunatics' motive, at least the night of terror, so to speak, would have evoked more emotions early on. Instead, the characters are one-dimensional, and we never even learn the names of the parents!
The film makes up for its weak points with a good amount of tension and excitement. Also, it's a surprisingly violent and disturbing movie. There's quite a deal of violent content, including rape, which is more than you'd expect from a direct-to-video low-budgeter obviously shelved for a little while before being released. (Found this in the New Release section of Blockbuster.) And a lot of what Lori Beth goes through and resorts to is logical and I always seemed to agree with her plan. I particularly liked her desperate attempt to contact someone off the Internet (but don't miss the cheap rip-off version of AOL called American Chat that she logs onto, it's pretty bad). It was an interesting idea, because yes, she could get in contact with someone, but they probably wouldn't help her. Smart idea.
In fact, despite overall weak characterization, Stephanie Jones did a lot with Lori Beth's character. She conveyed a great deal of emotion, and she was a very strong character and a terrific heroine. On the other hand, in the other starring role, Muse Watson as lead baddie Daryl was over the top, and I wasn't impressed. He's slightly more menacing here than in "I Know What You Did Last Summer," but a better actor would have done much more with the role. Imagine Robert DeNiro in his role. Now that would be scary.
For a better version of this, try Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" (see my review). It's a Dutch film (with subtitles) about a family (mother,father, son, dog) taken hostage at their secluded vacation home by two subtly disturbing teenage boys, who proceed with psychological warfare on the family, daring them to survive until 9:00 the next morning. It's an absolutely terrifying movie, and brilliantly made. I recommend it.
Overall, I still recommend "If I Die Before I Wake," too. It's tense, it's scary, and it pulls a few unexpected punches. With more exposition of the characters, and a minute or two longer of an ending (I felt there could have been a little more to it before the credits rolled), this would be an excellent movie. Still, it's very well done. Check it out.
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