I love when the actual horror in a scifi film is implied. That's not to say that I don't adore straight up traditional scare fare, but it takes special skills to create a story where much of the alarm is in the audience's head and not actually up on the screen. In BEFORE WE VANISH, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa weaves a fascinating morality tale in the midst of a body snatcher-type alien invasion. Though I appreciate the high concept sci-fi theme and enjoyed the horror sequences that did make it onscreen, BEFORE WE VANISH was unfortunately not a total home run for me.
The film begins with the gruesome murder of a family by an innocent looking schoolgirl. Another story line shows an exasperated young wife dealing with her husband's sudden mental breakdown, while yet another thread involves a beat journalist acting as a "guide" for a new peculiar friend. As their stories slowly intersect, we learn that aliens are co opting the bodies of unsuspecting hosts and then "taking" various emotions from other unwitting victims rendering them feeble minded. Though journalist Sakurai's new charge makes his intentions clear from the get go, Sakurai is naturally dubious yet agrees to go along with his new friend since they are both seeking the young girl who is the main suspect in the aforementioned homocide. When the government health organization contacts Sakurai in conjunction with an ongoing investigation into a new virus threatening to take over Japan and possibly the world, Sakurai begins to take his mysterious pal's story more seriously.
On the other hand, the struggling wife Narumi is left to figure out what is going on with her husband Shinji all on her own. Narumi tries to go about her normal day to day life while dealing with her husband's bizarre behavior, but before too long Shinji's new demeanor begins to alienate (pun intended) Narumi from family and coworkers, forcing her to seriously question what is really going on.
Throughout the film, sequences where the alien characters "take" various emotions from humans is pretty amusing. Human communication is based on words, but the aliens are trying to make sense of abstract concepts and the meaning behind the words by stealing the feelings of their victims. Depending on how much the visitors take, the result can seem liberating for the person, while other times the results are paralyzing. The only people exempt from this fate are the "guides" or people charged with helping the three aliens meet up to build their communicator to signal the rest of their kind to commence the full invasion and subsequent eradication of humanity.
While I enjoyed the overall concept of the film, at times the plight of the aliens becomes a bit redundant. Kurosawa does a nice job eventually intersecting the various threads, however the road there is a bit rocky and lost me at times. Additionally, an overarching theme of "love saves the day" just didn't quite hit home for me as I'm sure it was intended, and the pretty bow that ties up the story at the conclusion feels off. As I mentioned earlier, though much of the actual science fiction is implied rather than overt, I did enjoy the few gory sequences in the film. Unfortunately even these scenes didn't seem to fit the general vibe of the film. I wanted to like this film so much, but my ultimate reaction is a resounding meh.
aka Annette Kellerman