By J. Carlos Menjivar
With the popularity and abundance of the found footage genre unique voices are rising amongst the horror community in an attempt to create fresh perspectives in the sub-genre. Just take a quick look at my previous review for the film JeruZalem and you’ll see what I mean when I say that, independent filmmakers are painstakingly redefining the found footage film. This time around, director Miguel Muller has attempted such a feat with his interestingly complex The Before Time, a film that explores truth, reality, and television culture, blending fiction narrative with the news/documentary format.
In a nutshell, The Before Time is about two rival documentary crews working on the same project– a reality TV show about an infamous Navajo gold. After a series of gruesome beheadings in the Sonoran Desert, the bickering news teams head out to seek the truth about the treasure. All the while the team enthralls and entertains with gimmicks in an attempt to sensationalize what is supposed to be represented objectively. As things escalate between the group, otherworldly forces interfere and begin to take a toll on the crew and what they discover is definitely not what they signed up for.
The film is led by rivals Cate (Danielle Baker) and Kim (Jules Hartley), two plucky and competitive newscasters who constantly try to undo and top each other. It doesn’t help them much that their exploitative producer, Daniel (Ted Jonas) gleefully watches on and fuels the flames, pitting the two women against each for the sake of television.
Daniel is conniving and only cares about providing the best possible angle even if it means jeopardizing the integrity of the truth. He goes as far as staging scenarios and reactions and in one instance hires a Native American to spout out nonsensical warnings, scaring the crew in the process.
It takes some time for the film to reach its conclusion, but the film, nonetheless, manages to throw in a few strange and quirky moments throughout that’ll keep one entertained. There is a scene where the crew take peyote with a Native American guide and in the process are unable to decipher truth from mere drug-fueled hallucination. Because of the character’s unwitting nature some of their fear comes off as comical; little do they know of the potential danger that is slowly enveloping the documentary crew. In fact, the film saves room for a sense of humor, one where the audience– at an advantage– is in on the danger of the situation while the character’s scoff at the idea of something evil lurking in the dark.
But beyond the blood and things that go bump in the night most of the film streamlines the complications of truth and fiction in the 21st century. We live in a postmodern culture where the hyperreal is substituted for the authentic, rendering the credibility of “actuality” nearly obsolete and/or meaningless. The film uses “reality television” as the forum for exploring the nature of truth with its beliefs communicated through Daniel– serving as a quasi-spokesperson for the film’s ideology– who constantly flirts with reality, adjusting the truth for the purpose of creating an exploitative project that gives the appearance of truth while at the same time delivering what the mass culture desires: entertainment.
The Before Time is an interesting and thought provoking film that takes the found footage genre to the next level by adding levels of profundity. The film offers a multi-layered and faceted narrative that plays with the notion of verisimilitude and subtly offers intellectual ruminations on the media and entertainment within an entertaining and fun film. Despite its complexity The Before Time never takes itself entirely too seriously and instead goes about with an infectious and charming sense of humor.