(A.k.a. WAKE BEFORE I DIE)
Dan (Robert McKeehen) and his family move to a sleepy Northwest town, where he's been appointed as the new pastor. Upon arriving at his new church, the locals have organised a surprise party - this serves as both a welcoming commission for Dan, and a fond farewell to the aged pastor he'll be replacing.
Dan's first church service involves swearing in town regular Ethan (Michael J Prosser) as a new Deacon. Shortly afterwards, he's asked to bless the grave of a recently deceased local, prior to conducting the funeral. Quite why he chooses to do this in the dead of night - it involves a drive out to the nearby cemetery - and, furthermore, takes his young son along for the ride, is anyone's guess.
For a short while, though, everything seems quite idyllic in their new town. Okay, Dan and his family could do without power cuts in the night and strange occurrences in the supermarket. But there's nothing too untoward to speak of.
That is, until Dan receives a call from Marie (Adrienne Vogel), a local woman who urgently wants to speak with him and who claims the town to be "evil". Upon visiting Marie at home, Dan finds her bedridden. Sobbing, she tells him how her sister Abby is possessed. Unsure of how to react, Dan blesses her with an impromptu prayer. But then he meets Abby for himself and is suitably freaked out by the teenager's calm, dead-eyed threats of imminent death and dark forces at play. Yeah, Dan makes his excuses and leaves the premises sharpish.
Shortly after this troubling episode, Dan is visited by a concerned couple who are fretting over the antics of their teenage runaway daughter Sally (Nouel Riel). In a moment of madness, Dan offers to temporarily take Sally in, in the hope that a stay with his family will get her back on the straight and narrow.
Well, Sally seems okay. But her boyfriend - the surly greaser Mark - is decidedly less savoury. He confronts Dan in a cafe solely to tell him that, contrary to the wishes of Sally's parents, he will be seeing his girlfriend while she's staying at Dan's. Sure enough, Dan catches him later that night, stood outside his house just staring at the place.
Then there's Nadine, the elderly widow of the recently deceased local. She visits Dan to warn him of sinister elements prevalent in the town. Before she leaves his office, Dan takes note of a curious black ring on her finger. It's not the first time he's seen a local wearing one of these - and it won't be the last.
What's the dark secret that the town is hiding? Why are Dan's children so haunted at the local school? Has Dan entered his family into a new life that will ultimately destroy them?
BEFORE I DIE is directed by The Brothers Freeman. They also adapted their screenplay from their father Dale's novel "My Soul to Take". Clearly, there is some experience of the pastor's life in Freeman Senior's source material - and it's all translated here with care and attention to detail. Which lends the film a quality of authenticity.
It also bogs the film down somewhat in unnecessary information, and renders events a little bit dull. I mean, this film is 112 minutes long and at times it feels as if it's literally crawling to the finishing line.
But first, let's look at the positives...
The filmmakers go for mystique and atmosphere in every scene, favouring a subtle approach to their scares over overt gore and shock tactics. Each composition is considered, with ambient lighting, thought-out camera angles and a moody piano/synth score to help events approach a level of David Lynch-esque creepiness.
Performances are above average for an indie flick of this ilk. Especially in the cases of McKeehen and Riel. It's good to have charismatic, plausible leads and these two carry their roles extremely well. There's solid support offered from more peripheral characters too.
But this all moves rather slowly and feels a tad too polite to register in terms of tension or threat. I feel bad saying that because each scene taken individually is relatively successful - but the cumulative effect is a film which just drags on with nothing in the way of set-pieces or even an incremental sense of foreboding. Elements of THE WICKER MAN, THE SHINING and even PHANTASM don't come across as derivative so much as just plain boring.
Oh, and the denouement is a total wet fart.
BEFORE I DIE comes to US DVD on a region-free disc, courtesy of Parade Deck Films.
The film is presented uncut in its original 16x9 ratio. It looks very healthy here, with pin-sharp visuals and a keen sense of depth which lends the HD photography a nicely cinematic sheen. Colours and flesh tones are accurate; blacks remain stable throughout.
English audio is proffered in a reliable, consistent and clean 2.0 mix.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. An animated scene selection menu provides access to the film by way of 12 chapters.
Our sole bonus feature is an enjoyable audio commentary track from one of the brothers - Tom - and his dad Dale. They laugh a lot, and an aura of innocence comes across the more they talk. Which goes a long way towards explaining why the film is so polite.
BEFORE I DIE has an eerie score and menacing cinematography but seriously lacks bite in all other respects. I appreciate subtlety in horror films but this? It's technically well-made but also deathly dull, sadly.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Parade Deck Films|