Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Here Before is a psychological thriller about a depressed woman who becomes awkwardly fixated on a nearby mother/daughter duo, triggering a flood of fragmented, fraught emotions surrounding her own relationships with her children. Like The Lost Daughter, it premiered to positive reviews in 2021, praised for the performances of its central cast and as a promising debut for its director. Since Maggie Gyllenhaal obviously enjoys more name-recognition cachet in the industry, Stacey Gregg’s own unraveling-mom psych thriller followed a much slower, quieter distribution path, newly available on the library-subscription streamer Hoopla instead of receiving an immediate awards push from the global behemoth Netflix. As a result, their thematic overlap plays to The Lost Daughter‘s favor, which got there first & louder, but the eerie feeling of having been . . . here before does mirror the latter film’s premise in an interesting way.
In this particular mom-on-the-verge thriller, Andrea Riseborough plays an Irish suburbanite who’s grieving the loss of her young daughter when a new couple moves in next door with a child that looks & acts remarkably like her. The neighbor child even shares memories & daily habits with Riseborough’s child, as if she were possessed by the daughter’s ghost. Obviously, Riseborough cannot ignore this phenomenon, which has effectively brought her daughter back to life after a year of heartbreak, and she gradually wedges herself into this young stranger’s life in a way that makes everyone around her deeply uncomfortable. The story twists & disorients from there, teetering between supernatural horror & communal-gaslighting conspiracy depending on its scene-to-scene whims. Like with The Lost Daughter, the movie’s strengths lie more its performances & discomforting parental dynamics than it does in its plot, but Gregg’s film concludes with a much more satisfying genre payoff than Gyllenhaal’s.
Even putting Here Before‘s coincidental Lost Daughter parallels aside, it’s not exactly unique in its purpose or tone. There’s plenty of Atmospheric Horror About Grief out there, especially of the post-Hereditary variety. Only this one has Andrea Riseborough at center stage, though, and she carries the genre’s tension as expertly as you’d expect. Rebecca Hall got her own acting showcase in the genre with The Night House. Sandra Oh got hers in Umma. Riseborough’s been given plenty of room to show off her range in the past (especially in Possessor, Mandy, and Nancy), but it’s still incredible to see her stretch her legs here. The way she alternates between scowling at her living, knucklehead teenage son and smiling nervously at the ghost-child who’s replaced her dead daughter is nightmarishly volatile, winding tension so tight it’s incredible her face doesn’t tear in two. Gregg matches her efforts without outshining them, except for in a music video nightmare sequence that momentarily tips the slowly building dread into true brain-melt terror.
Here Before is a low-budget, 80-minute chiller that’s entire allure is for horror fans already familiar with Riseborough’s talents as a performer. I’m doing it no favors by comparing it to a Hollywood adaptation of a best-selling novel, produced by three well-established actresses who each received Oscar nominations for their efforts (including Gyllenhaal for Best Adapted Screenplay). Still, I’d say it’s a more wholly satisfying movie than The Lost Daughter, while sharing many of its themes & saving graces. It’s a shame fewer people will see it.