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Photo: ‘The Girl Before’
If a house was designed and built with the sole purpose of understanding you and your patterns to a molecular level, it’s probably too good to be true, right? This is the lesson that Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jane and Jessica Plummer as Emma may come to learn in the new HBO Max thriller, ‘The Girl Before’.
‘The Girl Before’ – Strong Performances Making the Grade
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, fresh off her strong performances in ‘Loki’ and ‘The Morning Show’, has proven herself to be a tremendously capable and outstanding leading actress in her work in ‘The Girl Before.’ Mbatha-Raw plays Jane, a woman suffering from the very difficult trauma of having lost her child to stillbirth. Jane is relatively stuck in life, and she finds an awakening when she visits a beautiful modern high-tech house being offered for rent. The house has a strange feeling to it, with the real estate agent telling her in order to be considered to live in the house she must undertake a very minimalist lifestyle and interview with the house’s architect, played by the always brilliant David Oyelowo as Edward.
The mini-series is set up in a very tense and suspenseful way, with a strong component of the storytelling delivered through the performances of its leads. As Jane, Mbatha-Raw does an impressive job of containing the pain of losing her child and keeping the audience in the dark. She works scene to scene trying to keep all her sadness in, masterfully setting up the core of the suspense at hand. The series plays with the theme that everyone has something they are going through whether you can see it or not. This is most prevalent in Jane’s storyline but also with Jessica Plummer as Emma, a character who is a survivor of sexual assault. Both Emma and Jane have been through different but incredibly traumatizing events that set up their mutual desires to move into Edward’s house as a way to move on from their pasts.
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The show has a great deal to say about how intrinsically difficult it is to make it in the world as a woman, let alone endure the specific traumas that they have. Their friends and in Emma’s case her boyfriend Simon, played by Ben Hardy, prove to be incapable of understanding their pain and really not knowing how to deal with it, leaving them to suffer in silence.
Setting as a Plot Device
While both characters are unfortunately trying to move on from these tremendous traumas that they have faced, a key component to the plot in ‘The Girl Before’ is setting. Specifically, the series has a lot to say about the idea that where we live and how we experience our lives in our house or apartment impacts so much of our lives.
The characters of Jane and Emma both have difficult ties to their current living arrangements, which leads them to seek out the house in the first place. The show is keen on suggesting that one’s home can either be a painful reminder of the past, or a fresh and engaging new start. Home offers the opportunity to rebuild and essentially start over in a different way, something both of these characters are looking to do.
The setting of Edward’s house is particularly interesting as on the surface it appears completely minimalist and sterile, with a lot of industrial fixtures and stone. This could not be further from the actual case, however, as the house is incredibly high-tech but is designed so as to not appear so. It is in this setting and design that Jane and Emma are so attracted to the house, seeing it as somewhere that they can make their own mark on the place and truly make it their own.
The impressive technology of the house does lead to more of the thriller and mystery angle of the show though, as it is so completely empty that it becomes eerie to look out. It feels as though something in its operating system is always watching and analyzing you in one way or another which I would imagine, would make life pretty strange to be a part of.
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Genuine Suspense, Not a Cheap Scare
Another aspect of the show I found so incredibly appealing and interesting is its format as a mini-series. A suspense-filled thriller such as this one could have certainly been a lower-budget direct-to-streaming B movie, but the design of it as a story to be told over a few episodes is far more compelling. The format lends itself to creating stronger characters with much more substance.
As has happened with what we now refer to as the “The Golden Age” of television, these mini-series are a great experiment that more often than not allow us to gain a far deeper connection to the characters. If this series were to play out over the course of an hour and a half movie, I’m sure I would walk away impressed with the content. However, in this scenario, we are able to get so much more backstory on not only the main, but side characters as well which really helps the development of the plot from a storytelling perspective.
HBO Max has done a really nice job with leaning into this format, hearkening back to other series like ‘Mare of Easttown’ and ‘Landscapers.’ The audience is able to get such a deeper understanding of these characters and really feel them as three-dimensional people, better than we can from a film. I find myself far more invested with their journey and their pain, whereas in the film version of this I may be more on the edge of my seat waiting for a scare or just the next plot point.
It really is no surprise that so many impressive actors like the ones in this cast are leaning further into the series format. It also gives us the ability to find and create these amazingly talented performers and give them a screen on which to shine. The golden age, and series like ‘The Girl Before’ I see as incredibly important for the ongoing discussion around representation in Hollywood. Featuring a predominantly Black cast, these shows are a perfect example that we are hopefully making some progress as it pertains to diversity in Hollywood.
With the restructuring of the Hollywood system that has happened the past 10 years with streaming and TV becoming king, more avenues for talented artists to emerge has been a very welcome change. In the old days of classical Hollywood churning out a bunch of movies every year with the same casts and creators, we most likely would not have series like ‘The Girl Before’. I, for one, am very grateful for the change and encourage everyone to check out ‘The Girl Before’, now streaming on HBO Max.
Directors: Lisa Brühlmann
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.