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Dead Ringer

Here-before-movie-review-andrea-riseborough
SXSW

MOVIE REVIEW
Here Before (2021)

In “Here Before,” Andrea Riseborough plays Laura, grieving the loss of her daughter, Josie (Grace O’Dwyer), who died in a car accident. Laura is inexplicably drawn to Megan (Niamh Dornan), the young girl who has just moved in next door along with her family. In their few interactions, Megan shares some anecdotes suggesting that she is possibly possessed by Josie’s ghost, or so Laura thinks.

Writer-director Stacy Gregg initially posits the film as a supernatural horror flick, at least until the other characters start questioning Laura’s sanity. Though initially sharing her perspective, viewers will gradually see Laura as an unreliable narrator as she becomes increasingly obsessed with Megan, engaging in activities that can objectively be characterized as stalking and kidnapping, much to our chagrin – to the point that Megan’s seemingly neglectful mother, Marie (Eileen O'Higgins), angrily orders Laura to leave Megan alone and eventually calls the cops. But this is not what the movie is about, and it’s impossible to discuss what it actually is without spoiling – so consider this your fair warning.

At some point Laura’s fixation on Megan gets so out of hand that her husband, Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill), and Marie meet privately to have a chat – and it turns out that they share a history. Much like Hulu’s “False Positive,” “Here Before” is actually about a woman’s sanity being called into question after so much gaslighting from everyone around her. The ghost story masquerade is a red herring and a cheap shot that leaves one wondering why women creatives (the cowriter of “False Positive” included) take it – especially given the noxious tenor that can best be described as misogynistic. Then again, both films involve peripheral female characters who actively undermine the heroines.

Even with the twist taken at face value, there are still many things in the film that don’t add up: like why Megan would be texting Laura a bunch of Josie’s photos unsolicited, or why Laura’s son, Tadhg (Lewis McAskie) would act like mom’s gone mad when he himself is in on the con. If it weren’t for Ms. Riseborough’s presence, keeping the film in one piece, this is easily made-for-TV fodder that deserves the same streaming fate as “False Positive.”

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