In the late 2000s and the early 2010s, there were plenty of pandemic movies to enjoy where the world would be utterly devastated by an unknown illness or disease. Though we haven’t had a big pandemic release in quite a while, it would make sense that one would creep up with the increasing paranoia of the coronavirus and world-ending diseases. In the same vein of 10 Cloverfield Lane where the pandemic is the backdrop to the story of a few individuals, Before the Fire takes its characters to a small farming community to see how they fare. The problem is the pandemic becomes so far in the backdrop that it basically becomes irrelevant, and the character work is not interesting enough to carry the film.
In the midst of a mysterious pandemic, Ava and Kelly’s only option for safety is to go back to their hometown, a small farm community in the country. To Ava’s shock Kelly stays behind to report on the worsening crisis, leaving Ava to tackle her past alone. Upon arriving she finds a kind welcome from Kelly’s mother, while Max, Kelly’s brother, is reluctant to take her in. As time passes and they all work together, everything seems to get better but the outside world is only getting worse. Tensions begin to rise when Max refuses to join the growing militia in the town, and things only get worse when Ava’s family realizes she is back in town.
What makes a pandemic movie strong, even when it is only the backdrop, is that it is ever-present. It is a dark cloud that constantly hangs over the characters, even if they are growing closer and developing, it is always there. Before the Fire could have used any backdrop and it would not have changed the movie in the slightest. Sure, the movie brings up the pandemic every now and again with news stories and the slightest changes in the town but it never matters until the movie finally decides it does. Everything comes to a head in one jarring moment, and it has nothing to do with the disease that is apparently ravaging the world.
So if the film isn’t focusing on the pandemic, then it must be developing the characters a great deal, creating a good character piece. That would be the case is any of the characters, or the situations they find themselves in were interesting in the slightest. The characters just seem to exist in the plot, never living in it or making an impact. Ava clearly has a past in the town, having grown up there but, aside from her clear family trama and the house she burns, she does nothing with any of it. Even the shocking scenes feel more like a jump scares than having actual connections to these characters and their situations.
We like to think that any movie, no matter what its contents, have something for everyone whether it is the cinematography, the soundtrack, or anything in between. Aside from the pandemic backdrop, that the film disregards almost entirely, there was nothing for me in this film. From the shaky handheld footage with some of the most boring shot composition I’ve ever seen, to the droning soundtrack that makes it feel like the film was shot in purgatory, there isn’t much to enjoy in Before the Fire.
2 out of 10