The Movie Waffler SXSW 2021 Review - HERE BEFORE | The Movie Waffler

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SXSW 2021 Review - HERE BEFORE

here before review
A mother becomes convinced her dead daughter has returned in the form of her new neighbours' child.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Stacey Gregg

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Niamh Dornan, Jonjo O'Neill, Martin McCann, Eileen O'Higgins


In Christina Choe's 2018 thriller Nancy, Andrea Riseborough played a sociopathic woman who inveigles her way into the lives of a couple by claiming she's their daughter who was abducted three decades earlier. That movie was a clever subversion of a long-standing thriller plotline whereby characters pretend to be a long lost loved one, returned years later, sometimes in reincarnated form. With writer/director Stacey Gregg's feature debut, the Northern Ireland set Here Before, Riseborough finds herself on the other side of this dynamic, playing a grieving mother who believes her dead daughter has returned in the form of her new neighbours' child.

here before review

When Laura (Riseborough) meets the precocious Megan (Niamh Dornan), she develops an instant, initially innocent fondness. Megan's mother Marie (Eileen O'Higgins) never seems to turn up to collect her daughter from school, and so Laura begins bringing her home, with the young girl often joining her family for fish fingers in the evening. When Megan starts speaking cryptically about having been to nearby places before – the local playground, a graveyard – Laura convinces herself that Josie, the daughter she lost in a car accident, has somehow returned in the form of this young girl.


This is one of those plotlines that's so well-worn at this point that it all becomes about how the mystery is going to resolve itself. Has Josie returned as Megan or is Laura being gaslit? It's a storyline that was milked for all its worth over a season of Dallas when Steve Forrest played a bloke who claimed to be the long thought dead Jock Ewing, and it should probably have been retired after Jonathan Glazer's Birth, which really felt like the last word on this particular plot device.

here before review

Here Before doesn't add much of note beyond the specificity of its setting. Like another recent Northern Irish thriller, Cathy Brady's Wildfire, it's about how impossible it is to heal old wounds when the past lives beside you. Where Brady tackled this head on, Gregg sneaks it into a familiar genre piece. Laura's obsession with Megan drives a wedge between the two families, who are subtly divided along class lines as nicely illustrated in a wide shot of the semi-detached houses, identical save for the recency of their paint jobs.


Riseborough is as excellent as you'd expect, having made this sort of role her bread and butter by this point. It's her portrayal of a woman being driven mad by a desperate need to believe in something that seems impossible that keeps us onboard with Here Before's otherwise by the numbers handling of its derivative plot. The movie works best when it tells its story in grounded kitchen sink terms, but too often Gregg gets distracted and adds in dream sequences that have the dated feel of '90s music videos. Attempts to make us believe there's a supernatural element to the story never quite convince, and when the truth is revealed it underwhelms despite the best attempts of an overblown soundtrack to add more import to the drama.

here before review

If you've never come across this plotline before, which is highly unlikely, you may well find Here Before a gripping watch. While it may not reinvent the wheel, it certainly keeps it rolling thanks to Riseborough's turn and efficient if rote storytelling. But for the rest of us, it all feels too familiar. We've been here before a few too many times.

Here Before
 plays online at the SXSW Film Festival from March 17th to 21st.



2021 movie reviews