Is it really possible for those we’ve loved and lost to return to us? That’s the question that grieving mother Laura (Andrea Riseborough) finds herself obsessed with in Irish filmmaker Stacey Gregg‘s moody and compelling drama/thriller Here Before. Still mourning the tragic loss of her daughter, Josie, years before, Laura finds herself drawn to young Megan (Niamh Dornan) when the girl’s family moves in next door. Could Megan be more than she seems?
Laura knows that it’s not rational to think that Megan could be Josie’s spirit returning to her, but she finds it increasingly difficult to otherwise explain away the things Megan seems somehow, impossibly, to know and remember. Laura’s husband, Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill), and their son, Tadhg (Lewis McAskie), are impatient with Laura’s fixation on Megan — and Megan’s mother, Marie (Eileen O’Higgins) is downright suspicious of her neighbor’s intentions. And yet Laura can’t resist the compulsion to connect with this girl who reminds her so strongly of her beloved daughter.
As Laura’s obsession builds, the film pivots in ways that push it a bit into soap opera territory, but Riseborough grounds the proceedings with her invested, emotional performance. Grief can make the best of us do and say things we never expected, and the trauma of losing a child isn’t one that heals easily or quickly (or, in many cases, ever). Riseborough is raw and relatable in her role, making everything Laura is going through feel completely real.
Here Before marks Gregg’s feature debut, and it’s a promising one. She shows a knack for working with actors and eliciting powerful performances, as well as the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Laura, Brendan, Megan, Marie — none of them are anything other than regular people living regular lives. But are they? The film seems determined to show that love, loss, and other big feelings are part of the everyday experience, for better or worse. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: Andrea Riseborough rivets as a woman left unmoored at the arrival of a new child in the neighborhood. When Megan (Niamh Dornan) and her family move in next door to Laura (Riseborough), husband Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill), and son Tadhg (Lewis McAskie) in suburban Belfast, Laura is startled by the little girl’s resemblance to her dead daughter Josie. As she gets to know Megan, an obsession grows along with the conviction that somehow Megan is Josie returned. In writer/director Stacey Gregg’s inaugural feature, she has fashioned a mystery that allows Laura full reign to embrace her growing supernatural beliefs while hinting at answers that are far more prosaic. Either way, Megan acts like a bomb in Laura and her family’s lives, leaving Tadhg in particular essentially abandoned as his mother puts her longing for her lost child above the needs to her living son. In its strongest moments, Here Before limns sharp observations of the weight of family secrets and crushing grief.
Marilyn Ferdinand When a child dies, the hole they leave in the lives of those who loved them never really fills. Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is a grieving mother who is trying to carry on with her husband (Jonjo O’Neill) and teenage son (Lewis McAskie) following the death of her daughter in a car accident. When a new family moves next door, Laura is attracted to the young girl in the family, Megan (Niamh Dornan), whom she comes to believe is the reincarnation of her dead daughter. Here Before shows how grief can make anyone vulnerable to strange beliefs and manipulation. While I thought the script and the score were a bit heavy-handed, the actors were incredible, led by Riseborough in a performance for the ages. The cinematography is beyond good, immersing the viewer in the particular environment of Belfast and its rural surroundings—and by extension, the lives of the people on whom director and screenwriter Stacey Gregg has trained her gaze. This film is an auspicious debut for the first-time director.
Leslie Combemale I first saw Here Before at Sundance and What particularly struck me than and stays with me now is the director’s unusual use of silence and pauses. Neither first time filmmaker Stacey Gregg nor the film’s star, Andrea Riseborough, are afraid of them, and that silence helps build the plot’s tension beautifully. I also appreciate that Riseborough creates a character who is conflicted and unsympathetic — someone we as the audience are connected with. We are interested and invested in her journey, though we suspect it will go very dark places.
Jennifer Merin Here Before is a compelling narrative that stars Andrea Riseborough as Laura, a woman who is grieving the death of her young daughter. Laura is managing to manage her daily life as wife and mother of a tweenage son who is having difficulty coping with the death of his sister, but her emotional trauma escalates when a new family moves in next door, and that family has a young daughter, Megan, who is a charming lass who closely resembles Laura’s lost child. The neighbor situation becomes extremely complicated when Laura and Megan bond, and Laura begins to perceive Megan as the second coming of her dead daughter — literally, She’s walking a fine line between between reality and delusion. But, this compelling drama is not a ghost story as much as it is a thoroughly convincing, deeply engaging and ultimately haunting character study, as any glimpse of the supernatural is delivered only through Laura’s eyes. And, the brilliant Andrea Riseborough, known for shapeshifting herself into her characters, gives a quiet, raw and luminous performance as a distraught woman whose psyche is directed by pain.
Susan Wloszczyna: A haunting atmosphere engulfed with a sense of grief is everything in Irish writer-director Stacey Gregg’s unsettling thriller Here Before. Set in a damp and chilly suburb of Belfast, the story begins when a new family moves next door to Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a distraught mother who lost her daughter Josie in a car accident several years before when her husband was behind the wheel. The new neighbors’ daughter, Megan, resembles Laura’s deceased daughter. Read full review.
Nell Minow: Writer/director Stacey Gregg has a masterful command of mood and tone in Here Before, a meditation on how grief can wreck us and isolate us. It is subtly spooky but never in pursuit of thrills, always as an exploration of loss and of the way seeing what we want to see keeps us from seeing what is really there. Andrea Riseborough gives another of her exquisitely delicate performances, and young Niamh Dornan has a remarkable maturity and grace.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Here Before is a riveting psychological thriller about Laura (the always excellent Andrea Riseborough), a grieving mother who slowly begins to suspect her new 10-year-old neighbor Megan (Niahm Dornan) is the reincarnation of her dead daughter Josie. Set in Northern Ireland, the movie, writer-director Stacey Gregg’s feature debut, is haunting if somewhat undermined by an overt clue late in the second act. Although the entire cast is commendable — young Lewis McAskie, who was notable in Belfast as the older brother is particularly heartbreaking as the bereaved older brother Tadhg – Riseborough elevates the production with her nuanced central performance as a mother unsure if she’s delusional or has truly rediscovered her little girl.
Liz Whittemore Writer-Director Stacey Gregg’s debut feature film is haunting and thoroughly unexpected. Entrenched in grief, Laura feels a kindred connection with the new neighbors’ daughter. When young Megan begins to say things reminiscent of the little girl Laura lost, the grey areas between life and death become more complicated. Newcomer Niamh Dornan is stunning as Megan. This young lady is captivating. Her ability to play each beat rivals the adults around her. Andrea Riseborough’s performance as Laura is extraordinary. A woman on the edge of grief and sanity, she brings every ounce of her soul to this role. The chemistry between Dornan and Riseborough is electric. There’s an ease and complexity that keeps your pulse quickened. Trauma and deceit are two dominant themes that run through the script. You won’t know the extent until in the film’s finale. Utilizing memory and maternal manipulation, there is no way you’ll be able to guess how this story ends. Here Before is overflowing with gaslighting and cleverly written twists and turns. Gregg had me second-guessing until the final frame.
Cate Marquis Andrea Riseborough gives an excellent performance as a grieving woman grappling with the bizarre in Stacey Gregg’s chilling psychological thriller Here Before. When a new family moves into the house next door in their suburban Northern Ireland neighborhood, Laura (Riseborough) and her family, who is still grieving the loss of their little girl in an accident, meet the new neighbors’ sweet young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan). Megan immediately charms Laura, but soon starts saying odd, cryptic things about being “here before” although she is new to the town. Unsettled, Laura becomes obsessed with Megan and the idea she might be her daughter reincarnated. Writer/director Gregg effectively builds taut, eerie suspense, aided well by Chloe Thomson’s beautiful yet unsettling photography and Riseborough’s finely-honed performance.
Title: Here Before
Director: Stacey Gregg” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Stacey Gregg
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Running Time: 83 minutes
Screenwriter: Stacey Gregg
Distribution Company: Saban Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin