The critics recommended two HBO shows this week, KIMI and The Girl Before. They preferred the former; I much preferred the latter. Described as a psychological thriller, The Girl Before is a bit creepy and voyeuristic, though not in an X-rated way. Typically, this is not a favored genre, certainly not one I would watch for four episodes. Yet, the story is so taut, acted and directed so well, that I couldn’t turn away. And like the recent Oscar-winning Parasite, the house might be the real star. An architect built this house, intended for his wife and child, but both tragically died. And then, there are the rules, some 200 in all.
The Girl Before introduces the viewer to repetition compulsion and and hitobashira, both spine-chilling in themselves. Does Edward have a “type,” repeating past behavior to fix his past mistakes? Did he really bury his wife and child under his award-winning house to insure it would last 1,000 years? What did happen to his wife and child, and The Girl Before? Does Jane look exactly like Elizabeth and Emma? Were Emma and Jane “approved” because of the trauma in their past? Is Jane in danger? Does the house learn their behaviors, or is it watching them? I give the series 4.0 Gavels and it receives a 50% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 6.5/10 IMDb score.
After an attack in her apartment, Emma needs a safe place to live. Edward offers his house at One Folgate Street for less than market rent if you will live according to his minimalist rules. Eventually, they begin a relationship that tragically ends in her death in a fall down the stairs. Three years later, the cycle begins again, this time with Jane. Slowly, Jane unravels the past, while dealing with her own personal tragedy. Warning signs pop up all over. Are Edward and the house worth the risk?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jessica Plummer are the look-alikes Jane and Emma. The former’s work is well known in Loki and Summerland, the latter just beginning to get well-deserved recognition. The Girl Before flips back and forth, comparing their lives and relationships, keeping the viewer on his/her toes figuring out which is which. David Oyelowo (Midnight Sky, Chaos Walking) plays Edward, the rule-requiring, enigmatic architect. Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody, 6 Underground) is Simon, Emma’s former boyfriend, who suspects foul play.
With possible murder, rape, and a stillborn child in the mix, The Girl Before will not be for everyone. The series pushes lots of buttons. Still, the surprises creep up on you like the cameras in the house, slowly but surely. Can a house really turn upon its occupants? This one is a slow burn.
“Mbatha-Raw is so restrained and controlled as Jane that an eye roll from her can feel like an outburst. Oyelowo, similarly precise, is a terrifyingly charismatic and quiet authoritarian.” The Atlantic
“Mbatha-Raw and Plummer are powerhouses in a story that sticks with you because it’s a slice of reality.” IndieWire
One critic used the words “admirably sinister.” Watch fine actors at their craft. The Girl Before gets in the much-better-than-expected category.