Thursday, March 18, 2021

SXSW with Abe: Here Before

I’m thrilled to be covering SXSW for the third time. This year, I’m not in Austin, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Here Before
Directed by Stacey Gregg
Narrative Feature Competition

A loss is something that people don’t always recover from, and it can stick with them for their entire lives, regardless of how much time has passed. The emotions that stem from an absence may be triggered at unexpected times, and it may seem as if someone has moved on, in whatever way they can, before they return to a state of deep mourning that prohibits them from functioning fully in the world. Being reminded of places or people that relate to a loss can understandably serve to reopen scabbed wounds, a concept bluntly explored in this uneven psychological thriller.

Laura (Andrea Riseborough) lives with her husband Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill) and her teenage son Tadhg (Lewis McAskie). When ten-year-old Megan (Niamh Dornan) moves in next door, Laura takes a liking to her, in no small part because it feels like the relationship she had with the child she lost, her daughter Josie. When Megan’s mother (Eileen O’Higgins) fails to pick her up from school, Laura drives her home and forms more of a connection as she becomes increasingly entranced by how much Megan makes her think of Josie.

It’s not clear what this film exactly wants to be, since there is definitely something disconcerting about Megan’s precociousness and the way that she so quickly warms to her adult neighbor. Laura does notice that Megan seems to function independently and that her mother and stepfather often leave her to her own devices, but she exudes a welcoming nature that makes sense as a reason that children might be drawn to her. Whether there is something supernatural at play with Megan being some kind of reincarnation of Josie is certainly a notion this film posits, and as that becomes its intended direction, this film leans strongly into that possibility as it adopts a feverish, almost nightmarish tone.

Riseborough is an actress with tremendous capability that she has demonstrated in numerous projects, but she has also starred in a few lackluster projects that cast her in uninviting roles anchoring uninspired storylines. Like “Nancy” and “Luxor” in recent years, this film finds a good lead in Riseborough but surrounds her with a lackluster plot that becomes less and less interesting as it goes on. Those hoping for one resolution over another will likely be disappointed with the film’s denouement, which is moderately satisfying but makes so much of what came before seem irrelevant and tedious.


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