My notes on Before the Fire, which opens in the US on VOD August 14.
One issue that this timely picture will have to get past is whether there’s much audience appetite for collapse-of-civilisation movies set during a pandemic that parallels current events – but also goes down an expected Mad Maxy route that doesn’t (yet) jibe with the way things have played out in real life. Given that the superflu ravaging America, turning the US into a no-fly zone, has more in common with Captain Trips from The Stand than Covid-19, the bug turns out to be a background presence in a story that’s much more about the horrors of going home again.
Ava Boone (Jenna Lyng Adams, who also scripted), an actress who stars in a silly werewolf TV show, is duped by her news reporter boyfriend Kelly Rhodes (Jackson Davis) into taking the last possible private plane flight back to their farm belt home town, which Ava has good (though never quite explained) reasons for never wanting to see again. Kelly can only get her on the plane by saying he’s coming himself, but he slips off to cover a news story and Ava is dumped on Kelly’s brother Max (Ryan Vigilant), who supposedly doesn’t like her, and diabetic mother (M.J. Karmi).
Armed checkpoints, anti-refugee grafitti and the simmering presence of militiaman Jasper (Charles Hubbell), who insists on calling Ava ‘Amanda’ and wants her back under his control (it’s implied that he’s her father), ramp up the tension, but the film builds slowly, following Ava and Max as they unwind a little and learn to co-exist in tough circumstances … but Mom’s insulin runs low, violence breaks out, and Ava has to rely on her own smarts and toughness – perhaps acquired during her horrible upbringing but maybe also as a survivor in Hollywood – to make it through to the prologue inferno that sets up the film-length flashback.
Adams is excellent in a role she must know is a showcase, though her script’s refusal to come out and say things that presumably all the characters know sometimes segues from hard-boiled minimalism to affectation. Also known as The Great Silence. Directed impressively by Charlie Buhler.
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