Adaptations are a hot commodity. It’s rare these days for any film to get made that isn’t a sequel, prequel, threequel, spinoff, book or dreaded video game adaptation. This has brought us the rise and box office domination of such entities as the Marvel universe, but also created a vacuum of original creative ideas. Two years ago an original idea from bright young talent crept onto the scene as the short film, Curfew, and went on to win the 2013 Academy Award. Expanding on his own material, director Shawn Christensen brings us a unique form of an adaptation as he explores fulfilling and experimenting with his original vision with a full-length extension in Before I Disappear.
Before I Disappear continued the SXSW film festival’s theme of films taking directions I did not anticipate. It not only expands the story of Curfew, but Christensen uses the opportunity to explore instances of a more dreamlike state and let viewers deduce certain details for themselves. In some ways Before I Disappear is an improvement on Curfew. Emmy Rossum, world’s greatest crier and in my opinion the finest actress on television right now, is a welcome addition to the cast, and I can’t give enough praise to Christensen for more than holding his own in scenes opposite her. Initially a concern for Christensen was that scene-stealer Fatima Ptacek would age too much before the feature would be completed, but her older age is actually an advantage as the precocious little girl is gone and a more confident and impressively talented youth has emerged.
There are also glaring flaws in this feature length debut. The use of voiceovers is prevalent and begins to feel grating and preachy every time it surfaces. There are also little instances where it seems a little subtlety would have gone a long way instead of the eye-roll inducing in your face symbolism that seems borderline condescending. Ultimately Before I Disappear’s missteps can be chalked up to an unnecessary indulgence that is greatly overshadowed by the distinctly on display talents of Christensen and his cast. It is truly a beautifully shot film that’s ability to switch tones quickly and effectively allow it to succeed. One moment Christensen is orchestrating a clipped and slick dance number reminiscent of Marc Webb music video, and the next take spends a moody eternity following an ominous hallucination.
While a more consistent approach may have allowed the film to accomplish a more complete emotional connection, Before I Disappear’s experimentation with tone and its bravery in deviation make for a far more interesting experience. An experience that still manages to feel like a faithful and fulfilled vision of its source material. Christensen’s wide range and his skills with a camera combined with his stellar supporting cast push Before I Disappear past its mistakes, and straight into a profoundly moving spotlight.
We originally saw Before I Disappear at SXSW, but if you’re in Little Rock, you can catch the film at the Little Rock Film Festival this week.
Portions of this article previously appeared in Comics Bulletin’s SXSW coverage.
Nate Abernethy is a magical sprite we captured and forced to do film reviews. He somehow also wound up with a twitter account @NateAbernethy