Here Before - New Release Review
Director: Stacey Gregg
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Niamh Dornan, Jonjo O'Neill, Eileen Higgins, Lewis McAskie, Martin McCann
Written by: Stacey Gregg
Produced by: Julia Godzinskaya, James Ashley-Turner Hall, Sophie Vickers
Cinematography by: Chloë Thompson
Original Score by: Adam Janota Bzowski
When a new family moves in next door to Laura and her family, their young daughter, Megan, quickly captivates her, stirring up painful memories of her own daughter, Josie, who died several years previously.
‘The Shining’ had the haunting Overlook Hotel. ‘Friday the 13th’ had the chilling Camp Crystal Lake. With ‘Here Before’, first time director Stacey Gregg brings horror to the hills of Dunmurry. From several shots in the opening titles, it’s clear that Gregg has a versatile knowledge of film, using visual references from fellow directors like Kubrick and Fincher. I was very impressed that this was Stacey’s first feature. Her use of a fantastic score (by Adam Janota Bzowski) and stylish editing (Brian Phillip Davis) really elevates Gregg’s script and fills the movie with gut wrenching tension from start to finish.
Andrea Riseborough has given some fantastic performances of the last few years, from the Panos Cosmatas directed ‘Mandy’ to Brandon Cronenberg’s creepy and disturbing ‘Possessor’, and her hot streak continues here. She’s very believable as a mother suffering from the loss of a child and she joins the very short list of actors who can do a decent Northern Irish accent (Also check her out in the fantastic ‘Shadow Dancer’). Riseborough carries this movie and her descent into madness through the film is tough to watch at times (in a good way of course.) The supporting cast all deliver relatable performances; first timer Niamh Dornan as Megan and Lewis McAskie (who recently starred in Academy Award nominated ‘Belfast’) as Tadhg both give great performances. Often, to me, kids in movies can come off as awkward and not believable, but Niamh and Lewis were great in their roles.
Mental health has always been a big part of psychological thrillers. ‘Here Before’ handles this subject well and really gets into a mother's grief after losing a child. The most impressive thing to me was when we meet Riseborough’s Laura at the start of the story, she is several years removed from her child’s death and has been through her recovery counselling. It’s the spark of getting new neighbours and meeting Dornan’s Megan that brings back bad memories to Laura. It’s not a subject that we often see in films, a kind of emotional PTSD that the main character is dealing with. In some scenes, I would have liked Gregg to dig more into this subject, but at an 83-minute runtime, the plot clips along too fast to stop and let these moments be explored more. Gregg also tackles the subject of gaslighting, but I can’t get too much into it without spoiling the film.
My only negative of the film is its 3rd act reveal. No spoilers, but the ending didn’t quite work for me. I understand what Gregg was going for, but the how’s and why’s of the situation are a bit messy. There’s also a scene between Megan and Laura’s husband, Brendan, that made me think things were going to become supernatural judging by the acting, score and directing of the scene. It was like a scene straight out of ‘Orphan’ (2009) or ‘The Hole in the Ground’ (2019), and it seemed really out of place in this movie.
It’s fantastic to see a new wave of Northern Irish cinema and Stacey Gregg has made a stellar first feature with ‘Here Before’. I also love to see a film heavily featuring Sukie and FonaCab, references that’ll only make sense to people from Belfast. If you don’t want to see Ol’ Kenny Branflake’s ‘Belfast’, I highly recommend ‘Here Before’.
- Adam Neeson