fri 19/07/2024

Here Before review - family values under supernatural pressure | reviews, news & interviews

Here Before review - family values under supernatural pressure

Here Before review - family values under supernatural pressure

Eerie drama stars Andrea Riseborough as a grieving mother

Cracking up: Andrea Riseborough

You generally find that a movie with Andrea Riseborough in it is worth a look, and so it proves here.

Written and directed by Belfast-born Stacey Gregg, Here Before is a nicely-focused story which plays echoes of the supernatural off against a taut family drama set in a naturalistic, usually rain-dampened Northern Ireland. Refreshingly refusing to outstay its welcome, it profits from recognising its limitations (ie a small budget) and working within them.

Laura (Riseborough) and Brandon (Jonjo O’Neill) are maintaining an even strain, keeping the family home ship-shape while bringing up their son Tadhg. However, their equilibrium will be steadily tilted off its axis by the arrival in the house next door of Marie (Eileen O’Higgins) and Chris (Martin McCann) and their adorably blonde young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan).

When Laura gives Megan a lift home from school after her mum has failed to turn up on time, it ignites an instant sympathy between them. Being next-door neighbours they inevitably bump into each other regularly, and strike up a quasi-mother and daughter relationship that soon gets Marie feeling tetchy and agitated.

The plot gets a spin in the blender when we learn that Laura is struggling to get over the loss of her own young daughter Josie. More than that, Megan seems to have some kind of psychic connection with the dead girl. Though she’s never lived in the neighbourhood before, she claims to remember places and experiences that she’s had, like visiting the cemetery or the local playground, where she can remember a fish-shaped ride that’s no longer there. Creepier still, she describes a car journey with Brendan when he was singing at the steering wheel. A glimpse of a book about “Reincarnation and Children” gives us a slightly heavy-handed prod in a metaphysical direction.

Laura starts to believe she’s cracking up mentally, as tensions between the neighbouring families rise. Gradually, though, a different perspective starts to emerge, putting the emotional bonds between the adults under a harsher scrutiny.

This isn’t the fully-fledged piece of work that more time and money would probably have enabled it to be, but there’s a lot to like. Riseborough brings tension and grip to her portrayal of stressed motherhood, and the two couples make a convincingly contrasting pair. Director Gregg has a shrewd eye for landscape, making space for panoramic aerial views as well as moody shots of dark trees and wet grass under frowning grey skies, or soggy woodlands lit up by splashes of autumnal reds and russets. Composer Adam Janota Bzowski adds a miasma of creepily suggestive electronica. Where will Gregg go from here?

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