Stacey Gregg’s thriller Here Before follows a woman’s obsessive grief and how her desire to reconnect with her deceased daughter upends the lives of everyone around her. It’s a twisting tale that holds its “supernatural” elements close to the chest, forever toying with the possibility of reincarnation. Unlike Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, Here Before never explicitly states “this stranger’s child is the reincarnation of your daughter”. Instead, writer/director Stacey Gregg keeps the story trained on Andrea Riseborough’s Laura as her world is slowly turned upside down.
Celebrating it’s World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, Here Before stars Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Possessor), Martin McCann (Calibre), Jonjo O’Neill (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Eileen O’Higgins (Mary Queen of Scots), and Niamh Dornan.
In this psychological thriller of family secrets and neverending grief, Laura (Riseborough) has finally begun to pick up the pieces of her family’s shattered life after the death of her daughter. The shadow of that dark day hangs over the family, as it always does, forever reminded of their loss by an empty chair at the dinner table. When a new family moves in next door Laura immediately connects with the young daughter (Matthews) of her neighbours. She plays with the young girl in the front yard, drives her home from school, and even has her fill that empty dining room chair on occasion.
Everyone around her recognizes that Laura is becoming a little too attached to the girl, including her mother Marie (O’Higgins) who pushes down her uncomfortably as long as she can manage. But Laura isn’t just finding comfort in replacing the daughter-shaped hole in her life, she slowly begins to believe that Megan (Dornan) is her daughter reincarnated. Naturally, she shrugs the idea off as absurd but as similarities in their personalities mount and Megan very clearly recalls memories that couldn’t possibly be her own, Laura becomes certain that Megan is the daughter she had always prayed would return to her.
As a horror reviewer, thrillers are always tough for me because I see all the unventured paths a story like Here Before could take that would have brought it into a more fantastical space. That’s on me though because Stacey Gregg’s screenplay wants me to peer down those alleyways and fall victim to the same spell that has overtaken Laura. Similar to how Friedkin’s The Exorcist exhausts all scientific explanation before diving headfirst into the heightened world of demon possession, Here Before slowly chips away at your disbelief. Before long, you’re full on the side of Laura’s wild theory and that’s thanks, in large part, to Riseborough’s brilliantly subtle performance. Seeing Riseborough’s reaction onscreen is like finding a flashlight and a road map after wandering aimlessly in the dark for hours. Suddenly you know exactly where you stand and what course of action to take. She has a unique strength to bring quiet, complicated characters to life with something as simple as a strained smile or a glassy-eyed stare full of raw memories.
Here Before is a psychological thriller that teases a bigger mystery than it reveals. It features a handful of wonderful performances, including a surprisingly untrustworthy display of childhood manipulation Niamh Dornan. The bow wrapped on the finale comes as a huge surprise, but one that I don’t think answers every question I had. Gregg crafts really compelling characters in his directorial debut but pulls the rug out from underneath his lead in a way that feels all too sudden of a reveal. We’re given an entire film to come around to an unbelievable possibility but almost no time to digest its turbulent twist. Despite that, Here Before features another stellar performance from Riseborough who gracefully conducts the film’s mystery and musings on the consuming nature of grief.
“Here Before features another stellar performance from Riseborough who gracefully conducts the film’s mystery and musings on the consuming nature of grief.”
Stacey Gregg’s Here Before celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you thought of this psychological thriller over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.