SXSW 2021: 'Here Before' | 'Executive Order' (Reviews)
If you're asking about a thriller set in Northern Ireland, I don't think I've been there before so there's a good chance you'll gather the attention of many just with your location. Stacey Gregg's directorial and writing feature debut Here Before drops you down to a clouded town to meet a family of three; mother Laura (Andrea Riseborough), father Brendan (Jonjo O'Neill) and their teenage son Tadhg (Lewis McAskie). A new neighbouring family moves to the shared semi-detached house and you're introduced to Marie (Eileen O'Higgins), Chris (Martin McCann) and their daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan). Laura's family have previously faced a death of their daughter Josie and as Megan starts to describe memories similar to Josie's, some mysteries and secrets begin to unravel.
When you have an actor like Riseborough in their top form and even besting her performance in last year's 'Possessor', filmmakers old or new can let out a sigh of relief. Tormented journey that Laura goes through gets channeled through Riseborough with immense skill, much thanks to her expressive face. It's always a miracle when a director not only gets a star outing from their lead but from the supporting cast too, there really aren't weak links in the ensemble that Gregg has pulled together. There are however few times when you'd wish they were given more because some of the editing reaches far beyond the film's limits, it's not always easy to tell your (the viewer) or a character's position in the story or location.
Looking at the positives though, whenever those small miscues occur there is the incredibly moody and harrowing score by Adam Janota Bzowski to fall on to transition you from scene to scene. It benefits when the story needs to keep moving because the movie is ''only'' 80 minutes and there are those few mysteries to resolve. You may be alarmed during the first 30 minutes or so because it hits pretty much all psychological thriller elements along the way but the ending really ties it all together in neat fashion - the character arcs, especially Laura and Megan's, remain consistent even if not all super surprising. An impressive debut with convincing performances and high technical dexterity.
Smileys: Andrea Riseborough, directing, score, ending
Frowneys: Some issues with editing
Lázaro Ramos' first feature film Executive Order (Medida Provisória in Portuguese) packs a whole lot of frustration and political jabs about today's Brazil, mixing those ingredients with some dystopian drama in its concoction. The plot kicks off with the country's government officials of European origins first starting an incentive for black (called ''high-melanin'' in this future) Brazilians to move to Africa for financial compensation, after which a law is created to forcefully send rest of them there. We mainly follow one couple, Capitu (Taís Araújo) and Antonio (Alfred Enoch), who along with their friend André (Seu Jorge) oppose that and become viral spokespersons in the resistance.
It is just a cinema experience waiting to happen to pair this movie up with another politically frustrated dystopian feature from Brazil, 'Bacurau', because both of them have such great premises to build the rest on. In Executive Order's case, the first hour delivers on its potential as it has a lot to say and it says it all very well. Many thanks belong to the committed leads in Enoch and Araújo who are both discovering the edges of their range just in this singular film. Araújo's character's escape to a safe site features some of her excellently portrayed fear while Enoch gets his big moment near the end as he exudes his resistance with voice-cracking yells.
The film itself begins to take some jabs at 45 minutes or so and hits a wall a little bit after that, Ramos and his three co-writers aren't able to elevate the story beyond the limits of the premise. One things that is most disappointing about the film is that despite there being a dystopian backbone, it lacks a cohesive visual language when it comes to cinematography. There are moments when insert shots or close-ups appear out of nowhere, serving no purpose and sometimes looking just gross like the unnecessary mouth shots. A lot of potential is left untapped here.
Smileys: Premise, Taís Araújo, Alfred Enoch
Frowneys: Cinematography, pacing