Actors: Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum
Director: Shawn Christensen
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Number of discs: 1
Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
DVD Release Date: May 19, 2015
Run Time: 98 minutes
Watching Before I Disappear, I was reminded of the ideology at the center of Whiplash, which says that sometimes the worst thing for an artist is praise and success. Filmmaker Shawn Christensen won an Academy Award for his short film, Curfew, and lazily returned to the same material in feature-length form for Before I Disappear. What started as a clever short has now become a bloated exercise in ego and over-indulgent stylization attempting to make up for the shortage of actual content. I don’t doubt that Christensen has talent, but success may have been the worst possible thing for the quality of his art.
Despite some solid performances and occasionally clever dialogue, the plot of Before I Disappear is rife with clichés and predictably manipulative narrative ploys. This begins with the constantly over-used device of an interrupted suicide attempt, carried out over the grief of a deceased love one we see through hallucination alone. Just as Richie (played by Christensen) is about to fade into the ether while soaking in a bathtub of his own blood, he receives an unexpected phone call from his responsible and successful sister (Emmy Rossum), who urgently needs him to baby-sit his niece, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek). Sophia is less a developed character as she is a role contrived to allow Christensen to play against, essentially staging out his acting reel for the audience. Derivative of dozens of other independent films, Sophia is more responsible and mature than the adult tasked with watching over her, insisting on following the rules and carrying out the routine her mother has established.
The film gets into even sillier territory when Richie’s seedy lifestyle begins to intrude on their evening, though the worst thing that he seems to have done is discover the overdose of his boss’s girlfriend in the bathroom of a rival boss (Ron Perlman) he also works for. Somehow this, paired with the angry wife of a man that his sister slept with, is reason for Richie and Sophia to spend the entire night wandering the city rather than staying locked safely in an apartment building. The logic of the screenplay is as questionable as many of the over-stylized choices Christensen makes as a filmmaker.
The original short film was 19-minutes, stretched out to this thinly developed 98-minute feature, mostly possible due to slow-motion shots being used in nearly every scene. Half the film may as well be a music video or a trailer for the film itself, taking breaks from dialogue and plot mid-scene just to have a showy bit of unnecessary cinematography. This leaves us with asinine moments such as Sophia dancing down a bowling alley lane or Richie pointing a toy bow and arrow at an opening elevator door in slow motion. And Richie smokes his way through the entire film, indoors and outdoors, dismissing any logic of modern smoking laws. He is rarely even told to stop, even when he lights up a cigarette in the auditorium of his niece’s elementary school during a performance. We may be intended to think “Wow, look how bad-ass Richie is,” but all I could think was, “Wow, look how indulgent Christensen is.” This is the problem with a filmmaker giving himself a leading role like this; he is more concerned with how he looks as an actor than how it affects the logic of the overall film.
The real shame is that there is clearly plenty of talent involved in this film, but it needed someone to rein it in. Even though there are some great performances and decently written dialogue, it is constantly undermined by ridiculous situations and a predictably contrived emotional resolution. Other than teenage fans looking to see Paul Wesley play a role other than a vampire, there is little reason to choose this film over the 2013 short film, which is oddly absent from the special features. The DVD release includes only a trailer as an extra.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10