Movie Review: 'Before I Fall' (2017)

The movie poster for teen drama 'Before I Fall' starring Zoey Deutch
What makes someone a good person? That is one of the questions at the heart of “Before I Fall,” a magnificently directed teen drama about Samantha Kingston (a phenomenal Zoey Deutch), a high school senior, who keeps reliving the last day she remembers.

This “Groundhog Day” scenario plays out with a nuance other similarly-themed films have struggled to capture. “Before I Fall” is more character driven, thought-provoking, and disturbing.

Based on Lauren Oliver’s novel of the same name, “Before I Fall” tackles hard-hitting themes and dilemmas. It debates the moral responsibility of a member of a “Mean Girls” clique, a daughter’s duty to her parents, and a sister’s to her siblings.

In Samantha’s case, a dereliction of all of these responsibilities has led her down a dark road, both literally and figuratively, as a passenger in an SUV riding away from a party with her friends. There are some things you cannot come back from and “Before I Fall” offers a startling jolt of that reality for younger viewers, who might consider themselves invincible.

How we perceive Samantha at the beginning of this tale is highly interesting. Actress Zoey Deutch innately imbues Sam with a sweetness that makes her earlier behavior hard to comprehend for how truly horrific it is.

One of the characters that effectively convey the impact of her scorn (even more so than the plot’s central catalyst) is Kent, a childhood friend and fellow student, who has an unrequited crush on her.

Actor Logan Miller’s poignant performance is subtle, vulnerable, and all-encompassing in its projection of Kent as more than a lovelorn guy with a crush. Miller and Deutch are both equally brilliant in their roles, while also creating an impressively relatable romantic chemistry that strikes a rarely-seen realistic beat.

[Image by Open Road Films]
The cast of “Before I Fall” is impressive, overall. Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, and Medalion Rahimi all bring strong depth to their roles, while Elena Kampouris is convincing as the target of the girls’ bullying.

The area “Before I Fall” struggles the most, is in morally reconciling the behavior of Samantha’s friends; Lindsay (Sage) in particular. The more hers and the audiences’ eyes are opened to the indefensible behavior of Samantha’s BFF, the more you want to see Lindsay finally face justice, and answer for her moral crimes.

Samantha’s inability to see the lack of redeemable characteristics Lindsay possesses, the more foolish Sam appears. The way the story resolves Lindsay’s role as a bully is frustrating and riddled with contradictions. Making that aspect loom all the larger is that everywhere else, the film flies with ease.

Ry Russo-Young’s expert direction conjures a surrealistic wonderland for Samantha’s nightmare to play out in. She keeps the overarching sense of doom heavy without being heavy-handed and the pace never wanes. As cinematographer Michael Fimognari captures the mystically picturesque nature of dense forests and warm, yet stark, interiors.

“Before I Fall” is not intended to be as thrillingly mysterious as the underrated indie “Repeaters,” though it is as emotionally relevant as the thoughtful 2007 paranormal drama, “The Invisible.” The film's non-Hollywood ending is where “Before I Fall” makes its most profound stand.

It is troubling and thought-provoking, one of the bolder endings to be seen in recently released cinema. A movie usually rises and falls on its ending, and in the case of “Before I Fall,” it fails to stumble. Rating: 7/10

[Featured Image by Open Road Films]