A housing estate on the edge of Belfast, nestled against the hills; Laura rakes the garden, clearing out the dead leaves and debris to make space for fresh growth as a new family move in next door, Marie, Chris and their daughter Megan who will attend the same school as Laura and Brendan’s own fourteen-year-old son Tadhg.
Marie delayed on the school run, Laura gives Megan a lift home; passing the graveyard where Laura’s own daughter Josie is buried, Megan says she knows the place even though she’s never been there before, instinctively knowing it in the same way that she describes the playground where Laura used to take Josie, that way she asks for a ketchup smile on her fish finger sandwich just as Josie used to do, indications that while it is impossible Megan has been here before.
As commonplace a setup as can be imagined, both families are down-to-Earth, practical people going about their lives, Laura (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough) having put Josie’s death behind her as much as she can to focus on the present, her dedication to rebuilding her family now turned upside down by things Megan knows and says, comments which would be innocuous to anyone else but are devastating to her.
Written and directed by Stacey Gregg, despite the premise Here Before eschews any indication or atmosphere of the supernatural or horror, avoiding the territory of Audrey Rose or Don’t Look Now with a pragmatic but sympathetic portrait of a grieving mother becoming convinced that her neighbour’s daughter could be the reincarnation of her own lost child, a notion which she rationally rejects yet for which she cannot find an alternative explanation.
An impossible situation which she should not have allowed herself to become involved in yet from which she cannot walk away from or distance herself despite police involvement when matters escalate between the two neighbouring families, where Martyrs Lane was told from the credulous point of view of a child here it is the parent who struggles with the question of whether, as Eileen O’Higgins’ Marie puts it bluntly in her frustrated impatience with the continuing intrusions, some children are simply liars.
A slow-moving tragedy, very little happens in Here Before with weight carried by simple things, the way objects and places come to have importance from associations real or imagined, Megan (Niamh Dornan) becoming increasingly wilful, matching the behaviour of the already difficult Tadhg (Lewis McAskie), creating a vortex of obsession and resentment which pulls on both families.
Here Before will be on limited cinema release and available for download from Friday 18th February