“Before I Disappear” is an interesting movie. For one thing, it is based on a short film called “Curfew,” which won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2013. While it is not rare for a short film Oscar winner to make a feature length movie immediately after winning the award, it is rare for the filmmakers to take that short and turn it into a feature length film. It is even rarer for that movie to be so good.
Just this month, IFC Films finally picked up “Before I Disappear” for North American distribution, a very much deserved honor. It has already screened across America at various film festivals, winning the audience award at the South by Southwest Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Vail Film Festival. It is now just a matter of time before the rest of the world can see this special film as well.
“Before I Disappear” stars the same two lead actors from the short film, with Shawn Christensen (who also wrote and directed the film) playing Richie, a man who decides to commit suicide, and Fatima Ptacek as his precocious niece Sophia.
The movie starts out with Richie working the night crew in a local bar owned by a dangerous man named Bill (Ron Perlman) and coming across the dead body of a girl in the stall. Bill decides to cover up the overdose death to protect his reputation, and sends Richie home, where he gets a phone call from a mobster he owes money to. Finally, while thinking of his former girlfriend, he decides it is time to go ahead and disappear himself and slits his wrist in the bathtub.
As he is lying there preparing to die, he gets a phone call from his estranged sister, begging him to pick up her nine-year-old daughter from school because she is in trouble herself. Richie wraps up his wrist and heads out to pick up his niece. Sophia then becomes an unwilling guardian angel. She wants nothing to do with this man she never met, yet every time Richie settles in to kill himself again, it is her that draws him back to the land of the living.
There is a lot that could go wrong with a movie like this. The plot itself could be overwrought with melodrama, but it always veers on the right side of things. Richie is never someone that you hate, although he hates himself. He is also not someone you feel sorry for, because he brought this all on himself. At the same time, he is someone you are really rooting for because he is a real character, one with real faults and someone who deserves redemption.
At the same time, any movie with a precocious kid faces the danger of creating a character that the audience will hate. At the start of “Before I Disappear,” Sophia is that kid. Honestly, she is too smart, too self absorbed and too judgmental. However, once she softens, she is perfectly vulnerable and becomes just as likeable of a character.
There is also another character named Gideon (Paul Wesley) who is not a moral character by any means, but is someone who shows more kindness and compassion than anyone in the movie and is also the person who loses the most in this movie. The final resolution of his story, which connects with the dead girl in the bathroom, is never resolved and that is a tragic omission in this movie. Sure, the story is Richie’s but what happened with Gideon would have been nice to see.
At the end of the day, “Before I Disappear” is a very harsh movie, shot beautifully is the dirtiest neighborhoods. It is intense and there is always that doubt in your mind about whether or not Richie will make it to the end alive. This is a story of redemption, and death really plays only a destination in this movie. When IFC releases this movie into theaters, make sure you take the time to see it. It’s one of the best festival movies of 2014.