Before I Disappear

A couple of years ago, a film called Curfew won an Academy Award for the best live-action short film. It starred, and was written, directed, and edited by Shawn Christensen, a name that we’ll hopefully grow to learn more in the coming years. Two years later, he’s taken his 19-minute short film and expanded the concept to feature-length with Before I Disappear. He once again stars with co-star Fátima Ptacek, and also adds onto the cast names like Emmy Rossum and Ron Perlman.

Richie (Christensen) is ready to end his life. He begins the film in a bathtub filled with blood, having just slit his wrist. Only the one. Richie’s not particularly good at things, not the least of which is suicide. Later he’ll take pills which he thought were for sleeping but it turns out weren’t at all. While lying in the tub, waiting for death to wash over him, the phone rings. He answers it, annoyed, only to hear the voice of his estranged sister (Rossum). She needs her daughter, Sophia (Ptacek), picked up from school. Richie’s life has purpose, at least for the duration of this task, so he does this.

Later that day, after the aforementioned pills have been ingested, Sophia calls. Mother never came home. Richie goes over, only to learn that his sister is in come kind of trouble — because this is New York, and everyone is always in some kind of trouble in the movies — and Sophia needs to be watched for some time longer. So, Richie and Sophia wander around town for the majority of the rest of the film, sometimes getting into trouble of their own, sometimes bonding, and occasionally learning more about life. It’s one of those movies.

It’s also a good one of those movies. Its characters are interesting, the plot is involving, the relationship between its two leads is fun to watch, and there’s enough here — although not as much as one would hope — to hold our attention throughout. All in all, it’s a solid little movie that, unlike its Oscar-winning little brother, isn’t going to win any awards — but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing.

Even if you don’t know its short-film history, you’ll probably be able to tell which parts are taken from it. There’s enough story here to fill a feature-length project, but the most eventful aspects are lifted from the short film; the rest is less impactful and comes across as filler. Interesting filler, and filler that you’re not unhappy to see, but filler nonetheless. You might come away thinking that this could be edited down to a great 20-minute short, and, well, you would be right. It’s called Curfew.

A good chunk of the film is extraneous, and some of it wants to add up to something big that just … isn’t. There are attempts to hide where Sophia’s mother is, or what trouble she’s in, but once the reveal happens it’s ultimately not that important. A subplot involving a dead body happens and might feel kind of scary but doesn’t go anywhere. All of this is fun in the moment but a letdown as soon as the film ends. “That’s it?”

Shawn Christensen has the charisma to be an actor in a role just like this one. Perhaps that’s why he chose to star. He doesn’t showcase a lot of depth, but as a deadbeat guy ready to off himself, he works out well. He and Fátima Ptacek have some great chemistry — they both starred in the short film two years earlier, too. Emmy Rossum gets a few short scenes as his sister, and Ron Perlman’s three scenes don’t have him doing anything you haven’t seen Ron Perlman do before — although I don’t know if I’ll ever complain about having Ron Perlman in a movie.

Based on a better short film, Before I Disappear is a good movie about a bad situation and two different types of people bonding because of it. You’ve seen this movies of similar ilk before, but a good version of this story is never not appreciated, and this is one of the good ones. It’s a little bloated, and some of its story doesn’t pay off as well as one might hope, but it’s enjoyable in the moment and its key ideas don’t hinge on the story; they come from the journey its two leads take, and that journey is one worth watching.

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