Before the Fire (Movie Review)

SAG Award nominee Jenna Lyng Adams is fighting to survive amid a global pandemic in Before the Fire, which arrives in virtual cinemas, as well as on VOD, on Friday, August 14, 2020, thanks to Dark Sky Films.

Dynamic female duo Adams (Uncle John 2015, The Kominsky Method series), who wrote and stars in the film, and Director Charlie Buhler (Aegis short 2013) present a pandemic Thriller with familiar echoes of our current reality. Marking the feature-length directorial debut of the talented Buhler, Before the Fire dips into an eerily prescient tale involving a couple, Ava Boone (Adams) and Kelly Rhodes (Jackson Davis: The Basement 2018, Vida series), fleeing a virus-ridden Los Angeles as it begins to devolve into chaos.

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Taking refuge on the Rhodes’ family farm in South Dakota, Ava struggles to overcome a well-intentioned deception as she begrudgingly acclimates herself to farm life. But the welcome sanctuary that she finds with Kelly’s mother, Betsy (M.J. Karmi: Blunt Talk series, The Discovery 2017), and brother, Max (Ryan Vigilant: Naked As We Came 2012, Lenox Avenue series), is soon threatened by the arrival of a dangerous entity from her past. As the tension mounts, Ava will be forced to decide if the rapidly-spreading disease is truly the biggest threat to her safety.

Before the Fire also features the acting talents of Charles Hubbell (Walking With The Enemy 2013, The Lumber Baron 2019), Dakota Morrissiey (Boondocks 2013, Mister White 2013), Tim Driscoll (Nebraska 2013, Downsizing 2017), Lisa Goodman (I May Regret 2018, The Russian Bride 2019), and more.

Billed as a “pre-apocalyptic road movie” in the Horror-Thriller cross-genre, Before the Fire definitely boasts more deadly drama than action-packed thrills. In fact, the film’s premise rests heavily upon the fact that, in another life, Adams’ Ava Boone was Amanda, a small town girl with some serious family issues. What those exact traumas encompass we never learn, and the omission of these specific details leads to a problem when it comes to character development, as the viewer is left in the dark when Amanda begins to panic uncontrollably merely at the thought of returning to her hometown. Eventually we are shown that neither of her parents are stellar citizens, but there’s still that lingering question of what exactly happened in the past to wrench the Boone family apart.

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Eventually these gaps do raise further questions, though none of this ever degrades Adams’ impressive performance in the role that she authored. Obviously Amanda might have been a more fiercely memorable character had the screenplay delivered further detail, but as it stands these issues never staunch the flow of the tale. So while the foundation that all of the actors’ performances rests upon has its weaknesses, if you can forgive not having some of the facts spelled out loud and clear (i.e. Jasper is Amanda’s father, though it’s never explicitly stated), Before the Fire is at least enjoyable for its 90 minute runtime.

A shockingly timely tale, it plays off the paranoia of small town militias, a global pandemic that has turned the entire U.S. into a no-fly zone, and the nervous hoarding of dwindling supplies (toilet paper, anyone?). And much like in real-life 2020, the question of whom to trust arises more often than one would like to think. Portraying their diverse roles, the cast of Before the Fire bring this palpable tension to the screen with ease. Heading up the darker, more ominous figures is Hubbell’s Jasper, a controlling man who is hellbent on having his family back together. Hubbell is intense in his performance, though without a backstory his Jasper lacks the truly acidic taste of a truly well-rounded villain.

But he still manages to have clear foils in the welcoming Mrs. Rhodes (Karmi), an insulin-dependent diabetic, and her younger son, Max (Vigilant), who runs the farm. Vigilant, especially, delivers a commendable performance as a man who is initially annoyed by having extra responsibility heaped onto him in such a dangerous time. Thanks to the actor’s talents, we watch his character develop throughout the film as he slowly lowers his guard and begins to allow Amanda back into his circle of trust.

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Then there’s Adams’ Amanda who sits at the center of it all. A Hollywood actress who is forced to face her past, all while getting her hands dirty on the farm, what her character may lack in background, Adams’ makes up for in determination and grit. Delivering a fabulous performance, the talented actress offers us a woman who has been pushed to the brink, and is ultimately forced to deliver an incendiary ritual cleansing. In this, the Actress-Writer is able to beautifully handle all of the powerful emotions of her role, as well as the more action-packed sequences—equally graceful in relaying her internal panic as well as in choking an enemy.

Of course, one cannot overlook the offerings of Morrissiey and Davis, who both offer pivotal roles in this tale of rising above seemingly insurmountable odds. Hardly a unique theme in films of all genres, sure, but Before the Fire possesses enough positive elements to make it worth checking out. From its wonderful cast to the magnificent ladies helming its creation, there’s an empowering redemption to the entire ordeal that promises good things to come from Adams and Buhler. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Before the Fire 3.5 of 5 stars. Oh, and wear your damn mask!

Dark Sky Films

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