Star Rating:

Here Before

Director: Stacey Gregg

Actors: Andrea Riseborough, Jonjo O'Neill, Niamh Dornan

Release Date: Friday 18th February 2022

Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller

Running time: 83 minutes

In a suburb in Belfast, a new family moves in next door to Laura (Andrea Riseborough), her husband Brendan (Jonjo O’Neill) and their young son, Tadhg (Lewis McAskie). Years ago, the family lost a daughter, Josie, and Laura can’t help but be intrigued by how much the neighours’ daughter, Megan (Niamh Dornan), reminds her of Josie. What begins as giving Megan a lift home from school when neither of her parents, Marie (Eileen O’Higgins) and Chris (Martin McCann), turn up, soon develops into obsession as Laura becomes convinced there’s more to her neighbours than meets the eye.

There are two key elements that work in ‘Here Before’ that mark the film out as an impressive feature debut from writer-director Stacey Gregg. First is the ambience to the film, which initially appears every day and normal, but becomes increasingly enwrapped in secrecy and menace. Scenes of private conversations between Laura and her husband in the bedroom, of Laura and Marie catching up, or Laura and Tadhg driving along with Megan, or the family having dinner together with Megan, never feel totally at ease as something brims beneath the surface.

The second element of ‘Here Before’ that will capture audiences is the terrific central performance of Andrea Riseborough. As a mother in mourning and consumed, she consistently moves the audience and carries them through her journey. Even as she neglects her son and marriage in her fascination with Megan, she remains sympathetic. It is through Laura’s perspective that the audience also snoops and tries to find out more about the family next door. Her clothes are frequently wet in the rainy backdrop of Belfast that’s never free from bleakness, reflecting Laura’s psychosis.

The young Niamh Dornan is compelling too, her ambiguous performance adding to the mystery, while Jonjo O’Neill pulls off well the calming, supportive, concerned husband. There are some interesting visuals too as we delve into the lead’s mental workings, and the mystery of the neighbours holds the audience to the very end. Unfortunately, when the twist comes out, it’s not a particularly satisfactory ending and, moreover, several questions are left unanswered. It’s a shame because while the finale is quite serious in tone, it feels disjointed and colourless compared to what came before. At the very least, the film is a reminder of just how brilliantly talented Riseborough is.