Before I Fall is the story of an affluent white girl in high school inexplicably forced to relive the same day over and over again, every time eventually ending in Juliet, the young lesbian she and her friends regularly harass, confronting her at a party. If it sounds obvious, it's because the film is about as subtle as a brick to the face, or in other words, as subtle as it needs to be. Much like last year’s Nerve, Before I Fall is essentially a Lifetime Original film wrapped up in aesthetic tumblr gifsets, passionate direction, and genuine thought and care about its themes, resulting in a charming bit of conceptual teenage drama. The concept, of course, being a young-adult riff on the classic Groundhog Day but opting to instead show each relived day with a total straight-face and to its completion. The film makes heavy reliance on its use of these reproductions and copies, showing us only four or five riffs on the same day, each one revealing more about the situations and anxieties Samantha finds herself consistently trapped in.
A photograph of a mirror where a person happens to be visible in the reflection is, by virtue, not truly a photograph of the person, but rather incidentally has captured their likeness. It is no more a photograph of the person than the light reflecting off the mirror is the person. As the film image is merely a representation of its subject, and the mirror is a reflection of its subject, the filmed mirror is a double-layer of abstraction of truth. And so it goes, for the first half-hour director Ry Russo-Young shows us her subject Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) reflected from mirrors, obscured through shower glass, and pressed against window-frames. In a sense, it is Samantha’s true nature that is symbolically obscured by these abstractions. She is rendered metaphysically faceless, a blank slate. The metallic, blue palette only adds to the imagery of Samantha as a cold, reanimated corpse with lifeless eyes. Her existence is gauging her friends’ responses to conflict and reacting in an identical way. But now, after waking up and reliving the very same day every day she’s forced to react genuinely. She’s quickly able to discern that her actions will shape whether or not she can escape the loop, so she can no longer act in accordance with the status quo. Her environment has inexplicably turned against her, and only through her own action can she change her course.
As the runtime builds, she slowly starts to lose her depiction through mirrors & car windows, reflections & obstructions and instead falls into the direct. Watching her evolution as each day passes is fascinating. After realizing her predicament, her first impulse is to remove herself from the final confrontation with Juliet in hopes that this evasion might end her sentence. When she wakes up the next day, she reacts with anger and confusion and starts to show express her true feelings towards her friends and family, subsequently having a chance meeting with Juliet in the bathroom. It is only after these two progressions she finally “learns” what its about, and is depicted clearly in bright, white light, eventually completely fading into white. Martyred. Each copy she lives through reveals something more about the world she lives in. That her friends are shallow and carefree, that her boyfriend is coy but manipulative, that she’s lost something with her family in all of this. Only by seeing the same situation, again and again, deconstructing and analyzing it, she truly understands what happens each time. Recalling Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy. Without the existence of copies, the original is never truly understood.
There are issues, of course. Still the carried YA insistence that the current football jock boyfriend is somehow inferior to the obsessive, creepy, stalkerish nerd (a trend that Nerve at least managed to subvert). For something more coded and subtle, watch the way Samantha’s friend Lindsay, who regularly bullies Juliet for being queer, gazes at Samantha throughout the film. Whenever they lock eyes, Samantha is the first to break, and Lindsay maintains her gaze for seconds at a time before breaking back to whatever the subject of the conversation is. At the end of the film, when Lindsay, Samantha, and their two other friends all sit on a bench together, the two lock eyes once again for what feels like an eternity. Once again Samantha is the first to break and Lindsay looks her up and down and stares for another five seconds before breaking. Given that the film also suggests that Lindsay had a previous relationship with Juliet, the undertones have practically turned into overtones.
It is a message film, point blank period, but like Nerve from last year, it’s a good message film, and possibly an important one. And if one were so inclined to look beneath the obscured views and reflections of Before I Fall, to see past all of the certified copies, there are non-obvious tendencies lurking beneath the obvious.
Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.