SXSW film review: Is Here Before another hit for Andrea Riseborough?

Andrea Riseborough from Here Before
Andrea Riseborough from Here Before, playing at SXSW 2021. Pic credit: Helen Murray

Losing a child is something every parent stresses about from the minute they are born. And if that child does lose their life, the grief cannot be explained in words. Here Before explores that idea of grief in a psychological mystery involving a girl claiming to be the deceased daughter of a mother.

The film hit SXSW online yesterday and sees another interesting career role for Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Possessor). Riseborough may not be a household name beyond the cinephile community yet, but Here Before is another reminder she should be.

Here are our full thoughts on Here Before at SXSW 2021.

Here Before review

The film centers on Laura who has recently been struck by a massive tragedy after her daughter Josie passed away. The story begins sometime after the horrible event and Laura lives with her husband, Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill), and her son Tadhg (Lewis McAskie), the only child she has left.

They seem to be living a semi-normal life when a new family moves in next door. This family, Marie (Eileen O’Higgins) and Chris (Martin McCann) have a daughter, and because of Laura’s empty void without Josie, she takes interest in the girl– as any mother who misses having their little girl around might do.

But as she brings Megan around more, Megan begins saying strange things to Laura. Megan keeps alluding to places Josie would only know about with the added line, “I was here before.” And as the situation progresses, Laura begins questioning whether she actually is saying this to her or if it’s just her wishful thought that Josie has returned in some form to her with Megan.

Since SXSW kicked-off two days ago, we have seen several films in a variety of genres. But Here Before is one of the few that keeps the viewer guessing moment-to-moment.

The script flips, subverts, and makes us question what was just shown to us with each turn. And for a movie that only involves a mother dealing with things being told to her by a child, it’s surprisingly suspenseful.

Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill (Sinister, Doctor Strange) once said that the best character writing, in general, involves choice. And with Andrea Riseborough’s portrayal of Laura, each decision is unexpected, oftentimes frustrating, and absolutely makes sense for a mother trying to make sense of the events in front of her.

This makes the experience extremely enthralling in the back half of the film as the threads begin to unravel and so do our brains. And trying to say anything more could potentially spoil the experience.

Andrea Riseborough at Hulus Winter TCA 2017 Red Carpet.
Andrea Riseborough at Hulus Winter TCA 2017 Red Carpet. Pic credit: @ImageCollect/AdMedia

Here Before would not be the movie it is if it did not have Andrea Riseborough in its lead role. By far, Riseborough is the most fascinating actress working today. Each role she chooses is vastly different than her last. The only thing consistent about her is she knows how to select excellent genre exercises.

With Here Before, she is about as endearing as we have ever experienced her. Anyone who has ever felt loss can see the authenticity in her eyes. And as a mother, she has the feisty nature that one would want from a protective mom.

The best part of having Riseborough is she knows how to communicate a psychologically thrilling performance as well due to her having a strong resume in the genre. So the balance between endearment and crazy has a healthy balance with her role as Laura.

This being said, Here Before is not a perfect movie by any means– at least upon first viewing. Some dots are hard to tell if they fully connect or if the decisions along the way were unearned manipulative plot points.

Basically, it’s one of those films one has to rewatch to piece things together and see if it actually all made sense.

Regardless, Here Before is an unexpected psychological thriller that is unpredictable. This is one of the few films at the festival that will have viewers on edge with character choices and story beats. And frankly, it’s this writer’s personal favorite from the film festival so far.

Plus, having another fantastic performance from Riseborough is always welcome. She is great in practically everything and continues to be as versatile as an actress can be.

Overall thoughts about Here Before

Here Before is a gripping psychological thriller with another fantastic performance by Andrea Riseborough. While it’s not a perfect film, the movie is unpredictable at every turn and will keep audiences guessing from start-to-finish.

Some aspects might leave viewers scratching their heads and rethinking some moments after it’s over. This aside, it hardly impacts the rollercoaster of a head trip this movie puts the viewer through.

Overall, Here Before is one of the best offerings at SXSW and deserves to be seen.

If readers like this review, read more of our SXSW 2021 coverage of other films, including Islands, Executive Order, and Broadcast Signal Intrusion.

Stay tuned for more SXSW 2021 coverage at Monsters & Critics.

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