Runtime: 83 minutes
Writer: Stacey Gregg
Director: Stacey Gregg
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Eileen O’Higgins, Jonjo O’Neill, Martin McCann
By Valerie Kalfrin
Andrea Riseborough (TV’s “Waco” and “ZeroZeroZero”) turns in a solid performance that holds together the mystery thriller “Here Before”(2021), even as the plot’s familiarity and left-field twists nearly tear it apart.
Laura (Riseborough) loses her young daughter in a car wreck not long before the film begins. She sees reminders of her “wee birdy” Josie everywhere, something she hides for the benefit of her husband, Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill of TV’s “Pennyworth”), and teenage son, Tadhg (Lewis McAskie), everyone trying for a sense of normalcy.
But Laura’s shattered heart is plain on Riseborough’s face and in her body language. She’s like a frayed nerve. Her emotional rawness becomes more acute once new neighbors move in next door.
The couple’s young daughter, Megan (Niamh Dornan), puts a nervous smile on Laura’s face as the girl twirls on the sidewalk and tells knock-knock jokes. Soon Laura offers to drive her home from school and invites her over for dinner, which Brendan and Tadhg find peculiar but tolerate.
Then Megan starts drawing sketches with her as part of Laura’s family and saying things that only Josie would know. “When we came here before, I was too small for these, wasn’t I?” she says of the monkey bars at the park, pointing out a nearby riding toy that Josie preferred instead.
The rattled Laura becomes convinced that Megan is Josie reincarnated. Meanwhile, her husband suggests more counseling, her son loses his patience, and Megan’s parents (Eileen O’Higgins of “The Irregulars” and Martin McCann of “Wildfire”) wish Laura would leave them alone.
Stacey Gregg, a writer on TV’s “Doctors,” “Riviera,” and “Little Birds,” makes her directing debut with “Here Before,” for which she also wrote the script. The film establishes a strong sense of dread and maintains decent suspense for most of its running time, thanks largely to Riseborough. She shows Laura wondering whether she might have Josie back, knowing how fantastical and foolish that sounds, and dreading the thought of losing her again.
Gregg also builds believable conflict between not just Laura, her husband, and her son but both families. Their homes share a wall, making them literally too close for comfort. Sometimes “Here Before” transitions between scenes by showing what’s happening on one side of that wall or the other, intertwining both families.
The film unravels in the third act, with revelations that throw the earlier behavior of several characters into question and an ending that’s confusing. But until then, “Here Before” is an interesting mediation on grief and how far it affects one woman’s reality.