I watched Here Before, a film made in 2020 now available on streaming after a limited number of cinema screenings. It is set in County Antrim within the last few years. There are no references to the pandemic; I think the date would be 2017-8 based on some incidental details but that is not important.
We start with some blurry moments and fragmentary dialogue from a car journey in late night rain, whilst the ambient-droney soundtrack plays.
We cut to some aerial and lateral views of roads in the countryside, where car tracks are visible of the offside grass. This is a film with many objects and spaces seen in silence from a distance, only closed in at the brink of a human interacting with them. The humans are often seen round corners or reflected in mirrors or through windows. The soundtrack, rather in the style of William Basinski, drops back when a transition is indicated.
Laura and Brendan live in one side of a semi-detached house, with their son Tadhg. They also had a daughter Josie who died in the recent past in a road accident. A new, younger couple have moved in to the house next door, Marie and Chris and their daughter Megan, who is near to the age that Josie would be. No references to specific details of Northern Ireland or its history come up at all; we never hear if any of these characters attend church or which church it might be. Laura is played by Andrea Riseborough doing the accent about as well as any English actor has done previously, I don’t know how convincing it would sound to anyone from Antrim.
Laura and Brendan are somewhat better off than their new neighbours, as we can see from the relative sizes of their cars. It seems that they are both professionals, though it is unclear exactly what they do. We see Laura wearing a lanyard at one point, I think she works in some hospital admin role; Brendan is giving a talk about road safety in the local school at one point.
Laura is still finding traces of Josie’s life.
There is a delayed “moving on” task of destroying the old wooden playhouse that was made for Josie, and this is finally done by Laura, and the wood burned up.
But before we reach that there is the enigma of Megan. Laura sees her waiting uncollected after school one time and brings her home.
This starts a brief period of her meeting and picking up the girl, who increasingly shows similarities to the dead Josie, but also seems to display apparent memories of the other life. She is also replacing the other girl in Laura’s memories of her. This puts increasing strain on the polite encounters between the 2 sets of parents.
So there is the thread of “the supernatural” breaking in to the world of the ordinary secular western middle class, and there is the easy psychological explanatory solvent available in the form of bereavement and emotional distress. There is the trap for the over-confident “sceptic”: Megan can give specific details about the night of the car crash, and the playground that only Josie visited. But of course the trick with this genre is that so much is left out: we don’t know what we aren’t shown. Laura says that she’s “had enough of counselling”, but we don’t know what sort or how long. We can see that she is incorrect in reporting some details (how many times she picked up Megan after school) so perhaps she is simply wrong about other things. There is reason to doubt that the new family had never visited Antrim before, despite what Marie claimed soon after their arrival.
In the end there is a resolution as we find out there has been a deception going on amongst the adults around Laura. Perhaps Megan was taking her own initiative in trying to change things, or perhaps the two children worked it out between them, sharing information. The ending leaves it unclear about who remains and what and where this story occurred, which is how “the supernatural” can be presented in serious films. For a similar work in the same style (but without any ghost story), it reminded me of The Violators.
In the end: