aka The Great Silence
Director – Charlie Buhler, Screenplay – Jenna Lyng Adams, Producers – Jenna Lyng Adams, Charlie Buhler & Kristen Murtha, Photography – Drew Bienemann, Music – Adam Robl & Shawn Sutta, Visual Effects – Tim Hendrix & Ben Kadie, Production Design – Palmer Schallon. Production Company – Madfire Pictures.
Jenna Lyng Adams (Ava/Amanda Boone), Jackson Davis (Kelly Rhodes), Ryan Vigilant (Max Rhodes), Dakota Morrissey (Jake), Charlie Hubbell (Jasper Boone), M.J. Karmi (Betsy Rhodes), Drew Saplin (Doug), Seth Owens (Adam), Lisa Goodman (Maddy Boone), Tim Driscoll (Bob), Virginia Flannery (Sick Woman)
As a pandemic rages across the country, transport out of all centres is locked down nationwide. Kelly Rhodes asks a friend to fly he and his girlfriend Ava out of Los Angeles in his private plane. Ava refuses when she finds that he intends to take them back to the rural town in Georgia where they grew up. Kelly persuades Ava to get on the plane but she then finds he has tricked her and sent her on alone while he stays behind to cover the story. In Georgia, Ava settles on the farm with Kelly’s mother and brother Max. However, as the pandemic creates shortages, the abusive family that Ava sought to escape from come demanding her back.
Before the Fire, originally released as The Great Silence, was a directorial debut for Charlie Buhler. The film comes from a screenplay by the film’s lead actress Jenna Lyng Adams. I was interested to read Buhler’s biography, which notes she comes from a bi-racial background and grew up in rural North Dakota. The same theme of people attempting to escape from Redneckville, USA appears in her upcoming documentary Rosebud about Native Americans in South Dakota trying to make it as rappers.
After watching Before the Fire, I had a debate with myself as to whether to write it up as a science-fiction film or not. It depicts a USA that is raging under a pandemic and of the attempts to escape the city to a rural life amid the fears of infection. Watching the film at the start of 2021, all of this feels less science-fiction than it is reality-based drama that could be depicting the way that Corona Virus pandemic swept the USA throughout 2020.
Before the Fire premiered in March 7, 2020. At this point, the Trump White House was still debating whether the virus was a serious threat and the total death toll in the US was only nineteen. Indeed, it was not until four days later that the WHO officially listed Corona Virus as a pandemic. This makes the film an uncanny case of prediction thus able to be included as science-fiction.
It is interesting to contrast the prediction here with the reality. Charlie Buhler perhaps overstates the socially devastating consequences – panic as people attempt to flee the cities, shutdown of airlines – and fails to predict the key importance that was placed on wearing masks and social distancing, not to mention the lunacy of the anti-masking brigade and sheer incompetence of the Trump White House’s response.
The great disappointment of Before the Fire is that you could take the pandemic out of the film and very little of the story would be affected. It seems only there to give some kind of rationale to the events – the reason why boyfriend Jackson Davis tricks Jenna Lyng Adams into returning to her hometown. There are very brief scenes where local rednecks present some threat of infection and we see abandoned military Humvees on the road, otherwise you could drop all reference to the pandemic with little change to anything that happens. All of the actual drama is centred around Jenna Lyng Adams’s family background.
What that leaves one with is a film about a girl returning to the hometown where she grew up and being dragged back in by the redneck family she escaped from. It is never made clear why exactly Jenna Lyng Adams fled the town or what type of abuse she was fleeing from – the scenes where she is imprisoned makes the film and her family background resemble something of a Backwoods Brutality film. Charlie Buhler does a fine job of portraying the bucolic rural countryside and Jenna Lyng Adams makes for an intelligent and determined actress who clearly has a future ahead of her. However, the dramas in the scenes where she returns to the town feel like well warmed over territory while the scenes where she is imprisoned have nothing on the raw tension of any of the films in the Backwoods Brutality cycle.