Grief is fickle. Over time, it fluctuates in severity and painful memories can be summoned by anything from a song to revisiting a certain location. An omnipresent shadow of pain, grief is always lingering close by in one form or another. Writer/director Stacey Gregg explores mourning through a mother’s perspective in her debut film, Here Before. A psychological thriller of longing and loss, Gregg mixes in supernatural elements that tease the idea of whether or not our loved ones truly ever leave us.
Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Possessor) stars as Laura, a grieving mother who tries to come to terms with the loss of her young daughter all while staying strong for her son and husband (Jonjo O’Neill). They live in a small Northern Ireland suburb and share a duplex with a new family that recently moved in. Laura immediately feels a magnetic draw to her neighbor’s playful and precocious daughter, Megan (Niamh Dornan). As the two begin to spend more and more time together, Laura starts to notice similarities between Megan and Laura’s deceased daughter, Josie. Their demeanor is similar as well as their appearance, but what is most unsettling is that Megan seems to recount situations that she should have no prior knowledge of. She tells Laura that she has spent time at a playground with her in the past and recalls the night that Josie passed away. Hopefully intrigued, Laura seeks to find the connection between Megan and Josie. Are they one in the same? At what length can Laura go to feel close to her daughter again?
As Laura becomes emotionally distraught at the resemblances between the young girls, her family and neighbors grow increasingly agitated. Her husband denies the correlation and continues to gaslight Laura’s reality throughout the film, while her son acts out in anger against Megan as a means to process his grief. Megan’s mother (played by Eileen O’Higgins), lacking any empathy for Laura’s loss, maintains that Megan is her daughter and Laura is no longer allowed to be around her. Laura’s emotional complexity is equally matched by Megan’s otherworldly allure.
Gregg utilizes emotions from each character to not only suggest paranormal occurrences, but also to hint at a complete psychological breakdown. The approach leads the audience guessing to the very end, but there is little revealed about each character’s history. The strenuous relationship between Laura and her husband is not explored very thoroughly, nor is the history of Megan and her family’s previous whereabouts. Therefore, layers of each character are not entirely fleshed out and lack any strong arc for such a dramatic and emotive storyline. Since Laura’s relationship with Josie is also not explored in-depth through many flashback sequences or dialogue, any empathy for her as a mother solely rests on the shoulders of Riseborough’s engaging performance.
Riseborough does deliver a strong performance, and her range is palpable. Her delivery is relentless as Laura desperately tries to convince those around her that what she is experiencing is real. The gaslighting from those closest to her is executed extremely well through the female gaze. And the atmospheric tone of the film further compliments her psychological downward spiral while dread is set up with an eerie score (courtesy of Adam Janota Bzowski) as opposed to jump scares. From the mysterious new neighbors to the dreary Ireland climate, the film evokes an invasive and bleak tone with characters on all fronts searching for their own resolutions. Strong symmetrical shots and framing also play into the thematic element of duality and if the two girls are really the same person or not. Gregg has a keen eye for camera positioning in order to restore balance, display character vulnerability and loss of control as well.
Gregg delivers an intoxicating and impressive directorial debut, so it will be enjoyable to witness what she does next. Here Before is a harrowing depiction of motherhood with all of its loving and painful experiences. While there are multiple layers of loss featured in the film, not all of them are fully developed. Regardless, Gregg brings a unique story to the grieving process which is complimented by intriguing characters thanks to an extremely talented cast. Here Before ultimately explores the dynamic manner in which loved ones can live on in various ways, and when it is best to truly let them go.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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