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Here Before ★★★★



Director: Stacey Gregg

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Niamh Dornan, Jono O’Neill, Eileen O’Higgins, Martin McCann and Lewis McAskie

Released: SXSW 2021

Here Before is that perfect combination of unsettling, psychological tension and unspoken emotional devastation that remains gripping from start to finish. The film subtly plays on the fears of a family when a new family arrives who represent that unknown quantity in a remote setting in Belfast. Andrea Riseborough demonstrates such tremendous range as a mother forging a friendship with the young girl in the new family, evoking sympathy as she contends with grief.  Her standout performance ensures that Here Before is an unforgettable feature.

Here Before is a slow-burning but taut, meditative portrait of a family unravelling as Laura, played by Riseborough, seemingly becomes obsessed with the girl next door, Megan, whilst struggling with the memories of her own daughter.  Laura’s actions provide that insight into the grieving process as she strives to maintain stability for her family following the loss of a child. The film deliberately provides atmospheric close-ups and birds-eye view angles to provide elliptical snapshots of the background to the tragedy. Therefore, it succeeds in creating that unease for the audience without providing any clarity surrounding the incident.

This is a technique that is effective throughout Here Before as it ramps up the uncertainty. During moments, it is never fully certain as to whether the onscreen events are the reality or a figment of Laura’s imagination as her obsession with Megan grows, illustrating that void created by grief. The film presents that complex aspect of the grieving process and its impact on the individual family members with minimal dialogue and a focus on the external surroundings, particularly soil and the blustery weather conditions.  The effect is naturalistic and produces a haunting, eerie tale bearing a resemblance to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now as Here Before similarly straddles the horror-thriller genre and explores that parental relationship with grief and obsession.

Here Before employs, jump scares and quick edits to position itself firmly within the supernatural category as Laura’s obsession begins to metamorphose and her behaviour and equally, Megan’s becomes erratic. Therefore, the question is whether Megan is truly who she seems and whether Laura has crossed several boundaries whilst being nurturing. Here Before subtly builds up the unsettling components surrounding Megan and presents an empathetic perspective for Laura. Riseborough’s emotional range is captivating to behold, and the film’s close-ups on her face and the long takes outdoors, emphasising the loneliness of grief, ensure that Here Before will get under the skin of its audience.

Director Stacey Gregg’s Here Before is a mesmerising experience and an intriguing tale with nerve-wracking tension.  Surprisingly, this is Gregg’s directorial debut, and the film is an assured masterclass in atmospheric suspense where Gregg’s decision to focus on natural weather conditions transforms the weather into a character and embraces horror film tropes. Here Before is, therefore, that remarkable debut as a brooding film with powerful imagery, symbolism and contains an outstanding performance from Riseborough as its lead under Gregg’s vision.

Given the recent spate of films, such as Hereditary, exploring the nature of grief through horror, Here Before also provides a unique approach to the genre.  The film demonstrates the boundless nature of a mother’s love for her child and is unafraid to delve into the emotional rawness of grief influenced obsession and unhinged behaviour. The film’s score also sets the tone for that sense of foreboding and dread pervading Here Before and ensures that Gregg is a talent to keep on the radar for the future.

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