Before the Fire
Unreal pandemic drama has very real violence.
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Before the Fire
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Before the Fire is a drama about a fictional pandemic. It centers on an L.A. actress named Ava (Jenna Lyng Adams) whose journalist boyfriend tricks her into going to their rural hometown, where the virus' numbers are low, while he stays behind. Ava ends up being kidnapped by her estranged family and is in serious danger. Gun violence is frequent and sometimes results in death. Characters are shot in the head, stabbed, strangled, mangled in bear traps, and left to die in burning buildings. Ava flees an attempted sexual assault. Some characters die from illness and are shown turning blue and coughing blood. Language includes occasional use of "f--k" and "s--t." All characters are White-passing, and there's no diversity related to sexual orientation, ability, or religion. While Ava fights for her life, she uses her physical appeal as her primary weapon -- manipulating people before stabbing them in the back. It seems like the filmmakers intended her to be a strong female character, but she lacks agency -- she rarely states her boundaries, her needs, or her opinions.
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What's the Story?
In BEFORE THE FIRE, Ava Boone (Jenna Lyng Adams) is tricked by her boyfriend, Kelly (Jackson Davis), into returning to their mutual rural hometown to escape a spreading global pandemic. Once home, Ava stays with Kelly's family members, who make her work on their farm to earn her keep. For reasons unknown to viewers, Ava hides her return from her own family members. But once she's spotted at a local bar, they kidnap her. As the virus spreads, a violent militia group forms within the town. A member of Ava's family spearheads the militia -- killing the sick and pillaging for essential resources that are becoming scarce. Then Ava herself becomes infected. She tries to escape and find her way back to Kelly.
Is It Any Good?
Uninformed by the actual experience of living through a global pandemic, the filmmakers of this drama fall short on depicting it with much accuracy. No one wears masks, indoor dining remains open, and domestic travel is halted. Characters who get infected are shown turning blue and coughing blood -- a spectacle akin to a zombie apocalypse with little sensitivity for the severity of rampant death. On the other hand, the cinematography is poetic and luxe, with dazzling views of the dramatic sky and natural landscape of South Dakota.
Star Adams also wrote Before the Fire, and her character, Ava Boone, is presented as a strong female lead. But upon further reflection, her body becomes a casualty of the pandemic -- manipulated, lied to, assaulted, sickened. The female body as the bearer of society's burdens is nothing new or progressive. Unless the idea of a global pandemic is still entertaining, Before the Fire feels like an ill-timed release.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about whether Ava is a strong female character. Do you consider her a role model? Why, or why not? What does it mean for a character to have agency? Do you think Ava does?
What did the Before the Fire filmmakers get right/wrong about living through a pandemic?
What role does manipulation play in the film?
- On DVD or streaming: October 6, 2020
- Cast: Jenna Lyng Adams, Jackson Davis, Ryan Vigilant
- Director: Charlie Buhler
- Studio: Dark Sky Films
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 27, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
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Thought-provoking pandemic romance has smoking, language.
The Last Man on Earth
Dark, fun existential exploration of postapocalyptic life.
Pandemic: The Board Game
Save-the-world co-play strategy game challenging but fun.
For kids who love intense stories
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