[Review] 'Before the Fire' is an Effective Slow-burn with Chilling Similarities to the Current Pandemic
Maybe, in 2050, our descendants will look back on things in the 2019-2022 (hopefully) era, and think: “man, a bat virus did that to the world?”, and we’ll look back at said descendants and say “yes, it did, jackass. Do you have any more questions?”...
...Living in a COVID-19-enveloped world gives everyone and everything somewhat unique opportunities to capitalize, sympathize, or otherwise off our current situation. It goes without saying that some of those ‘opportunities’ will just capitalize on it because people love that stuff. Fortunately, Before the Fire is not one of those things.
Before the Fire, directed by Charlie Buhler and written by/starring Jenna Lyng Adams, immediately strikes us with familiarity. Ava (Jenna Lyng Adams), a semi-famous actress, and her boyfriend/fiancé/fuck-buddy—it’s never made clear—Kelly (Jackson Davis) are stuck in traffic, trying to get the hell out of Dodge, which, in this case, is Los Angeles, amid the first wave of an influenza pandemic. They arrive to the airport and flights are cancelled. Cancelled. Okay, this is worse than coronavirus, and this is the first of many points I’m going to make to compare and contrast this film with our current situation:
-1 coronavirus relatability - we still have flights
Surprisingly, after a chain of quick events, Kelly manages to find a flight for him and Ava, which may seem like a great thing, but she is fucking pissed to hear about it. The reason being: it’s back to the town they grew up in, which was not a pleasant time for Ava. Details as to why will eventually arrive, but never be expanded upon. Ava’s temperature is taken preflight:
+1 coronavirus relatability - some get temperatures taken just to enter the grounds or area of a business or otherwise…you get the idea
Cut to Ava—dressed to the nines and looking ridiculously incredible—and Kelly arriving on a private runway. Ava gets on the plane. Kelly locks her in the plane, leaving her to fly off alone. When she lands in a familiar-yet-despised place, she meets with Kelly’s brother, Max (Ryan Vigilant), who isn’t a fan of her and vice versa, to drive off to their family farm, still thriving amidst an increasingly paranoid pandemic. Filled with martial law and military members with assault rifles, her first trip into town makes the setting clear: it’s a goddamn madhouse.
This is where we begin to see one of the many highlights of the film: the acting and dialogue, with Jenna Lyng Adams clearly in the spotlight and deserving of every minute. We see a first-class LA actress turn back to her roots and become a first-class kickass farm hand. She’s adapted to living at Kelly’s family farm, but she’s hesitant and obviously has some type of PTSD-related issues whenever she’s faced with the mere idea of her family. Visiting a bar with Max, Ava runs into some backwoods farmer dudes talking about making a militia. When confronted by a man who must be her father, Ava is shaken to her core. All the tough-girl attitude she’s taken on while being a kickass farmer is splayed in front of her, but not completely taken down. Jenna Lyng Adams is convincing as hell.
The setting of this film is goddamn perfect, with South Dakota serving as ideal environments for a film about, well, Midwest rural farms. The camera work is conventional but effective, balancing longer shots with quick not-exactly-on-the-action cuts when the action starts to amp up. Accurate farm duties, for this Midwestern idiot (i.e. me), were also a huge plus. Well done.
My only negative note would be the lack of commitment to one particular style. While not necessarily a bad thing, it did leave me feeling like there was more ground to be covered. The environment of COVID-19 manages to be a balanced but never excessive element, a fine and difficult line to walk. However, there isn’t much character building via dialogue, and the action and violence, while present, are never truly impactful enough to make this a “but, dude, the scene with the axe?!?”-type of horror/thriller. With how strong the acting, writing, and direction are, I wish they would’ve found a path to fully embrace. The potential is there and then some.
Much like a third party Warehouse Management Software used at a large corporation haunts the living hell out of its IT department—which might be another ploy/inside joke to get my coworkers to read this review and support this site--Before the Fire is a grounded drama, blending slow-burn setups with literally fast-burning tear downs. Jenna Lyng Adams and her future projects are without a doubt worth keeping an eye out for.
Before the Fire comes to virtual cinemas and VOD from Dark Sky Films on August 14th.
By Zach Gorecki