DVD Movie Review: Before We Vanish

By Drew Hurley 02.02.2019

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Before We Vanish (UK Rating: 15)

Any true horror buff will tell you, for the finest the genre has to offer, world cinema is the only way to go. Yes, there's the occasional decent horror movie coming out of Hollywood, but by and large English horror has degraded to fall into two categories: jump scares and torture porn. Meanwhile, Japan, Europe, and South Korea are knocking horror stories out of the park. Now, noted J-Horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is offering up a horror, sci-fi, comedy mash-up with Before We Vanish, available on Blu-ray and Digital HD 11th February, and also premiering on Arrow Video Channel on Amazon Prime Video UK 11th February.

The opening to Before we Vanish certainly seems to promise a grisly horror. A high-school girl returning home with a bag of goldfish from a local festival soon turns into a young girl walking in on the mutilated corpses of her parents, with the goldfish splashing around in the puddle of gore beside them. However, this is a fake-out; one of the true "horror" moments of the entire film, as the tone completely changes, transforming this tale into a thought-provoking exploration on "conceptions."

The schoolgirl has actually been taken over by the first of a trio of alien invaders, each body-snatching a hapless, Japanese civilian, and undertaking a mission to learn all about the species they are planning to wipe out. The subsequent invaders are next introduced, one now inhabiting a teenage boy, and the final taking up residence in a man named Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda) who is struggling through a troubled marriage.

Each alien recruits a human to become their "guide," to teach them about humanity and help them in their mission. The teenage boy recruits bitter journalist Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa), who was sent to town to investigate the murder from the opening of the film, and the two form an unlikely friendship. The teenage girl is snatched up by a shadowy organisation, so can't make a new friend to guide her to their ultimate destruction. Finally, Shinji enlists his estranged wife Narumi, played by Masami Nagasawa, an actress with multiple awards and acclaims across her impressive body of work, as both an actress and voice actor.

The relationships between the journalist and the boy and, even more so, the relationship between Shinji and Narumi, are the heart of the tale. Due to the stigma over divorce in Japan, the two are still living together, but the relationship is all but dead. Regardless, Narumi is taking the responsibility of a husband who has essentially become the equivalent of a late-term dementia or Alzheimer's patient overnight. Watching the two interact, and building a relationship once again when there's clearly so much animosity and history there, is captivating. It helps that the actors put out some fantastic performances.

Each of the three invaders starts out as something of a mindless zombie, neither able to grasp the world they have crashed on to, nor even control their new bodies with much success. To expand their knowledge they "take" information from the humans unlucky enough to cross their path. Instead of just draining the brains or psychically just downloading all the information they need, though, they are fascinated by the human obsession with concepts.

They approach each human and ask them to explain what a particular word means: "Family," "Home," "Work," "Love." Then, as their victims picture exactly what that concept means, the alien tears it from their brain via a tap of the forehead. This assault has two effects; it grants the alien knowledge of the concept, making them more and more human each time, while also removing that concept from their victim. This actually has positive results at points. A shut-in hikikomori has the concept of "Home" and "Belongings" taken from him and it gets him out of the house, giving him a new lease on life. A jaded, abusive boss has his twisted concept of what "Work" is taken, and starts playing like a child. That's not quite as positive a transformation as he seems to be a mindless, childish, fool, smashing up his office, but it's still an improvement over the scumbag he was previously.

It's easy to begin to like the aliens at points. Watching them help people by breaking free of the social constructs that very often do more harm than good, for instance. Not to mention watching Shinji, in particular, as he begins to grow more as a person, reconnecting with his wife and becoming a better man than his host eventually becomes. It's easy to forget the aliens have come here in hope of invasion and wiping humanity out. Some victims aren't quite so lucky, however; the teenage boy has taken much from his host's parents, resulting in them being left like severe dementia sufferers.

While it's great to see these new releases hitting Amazon Prime so quickly here in the UK, the physical release comes with some extra reasons to pick it up over the digital. There's a "Making of Before We Vanish" featurette, a 53-minute featurette including on-set footage, and interviews with cast and crew. In addition, three shorter featurettes are included, entitled "Inside the Story," "Inside the Characters," and "Looking Back" - two of which were created during the production including cast and crew interviews, while the third is a retrospective where members of the cast reunite to discuss memories of the production. Finally, there are also red carpet interviews from the Cannes Film Festival premiere, along with cast and crew Q&A sessions from four screenings, including the Japanese premiere.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
The thin veneer of a body-snatching horror actually belies the deep dive on what makes humans actually human. Before We Vanish feels more like a dark comedy and a drama at points, a poignant and introspective film that is nothing like any of the director's previous works. In fact, it's nothing like anything out there really. It's a little bit art-house and won't suit everyone's tastes, but this really is worth giving a shot, just to see such a unique story.

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