Kiyoshi Kurosawa/ Japan/ 2017/ 129 mins
Available on Blu-ray, Digital HD, VOD Mon 11 Feb 2019
Before We Vanish opens with a scene from what looks like a slasher or zombie film – enigmatic shots of a blood-spattered house, a couple of dead bodies, and a young girl happily dripping in red. However, the horror feel quickly seeps away as the lengthy film unfolds and it becomes apparent that this is anything but a straightforward genre piece.
Set mostly in Japanese suburbs, the film centres on Narumi (Masami Nagasawa), whose husband Shinji (Ryûhei Matsuda) has begun acting oddly – barely speaking, emoting nothing, and remembering very little about his life. It becomes apparent that some sort of body invasion has taken place by an alien life force. His key power (other than body-snatching) is the ability to steal concepts – friendship, responsibility, compassion – from humans’ minds; completely erasing them. An early scene with Narumi’s sister showcases this when her concept of family is erased with the touch of a finger, and she is never seen in the film again. Shinji’s alien is not the only one who has arrived, though. Two others have taken over human hosts in the surrounding area, and as they delete ideas from civilians, they also venture to reunite with one another. The ultimate goal – to take over the world. Obviously.
Quite why the stealing of concepts from human minds leads to this is never clear. The aliens’ almighty powers are showcased in the third act of the film, and it seems they could easily have taken control of earth whenever they wanted, really. The purpose of the reconnaissance mission – all two hours of it – ultimately feels a little pointless. And it’s the running time that causes one of the key problems here. The film’s pace is painfully slow, and between the bookends of the intriguing opening scene and a couple of further action set pieces towards the picture’s end, there is a huge middle wedge of dragging scenes, repetitive dialogue and characters it is difficult to care much about. Nagasawa is fairly bland as Narumi and journalist Sakurai’s (Hiroki Hasegawa) motivations never even seem logical, never mind believable.
While billed as ‘genre-bending’, Before We Vanish fails to successfully mix its confused genres, instead settling in vague ground. There are moments of visual interest and a thought-provoking basic premise, but these are spread thinly across a running time that doesn’t sustain engagement.