The Girl Before. On HBO Max, it is now available.
O masochism! Thy name is woman. That’s at least what it seems to be in The Girl BeforeHBO Max’s latest suspense drama is titled. In which pretty, well-educated women indulge in a constant romantic diet that includes liars manipulators, sadists control freaks and killers, they then fall under the spell of totalitarian homes. That’s right, Houses. You would not rent an apartment that prohibits pictures, decorations, carpets and rugs as well as books, magazines, or any other items.
Perhaps more importantly—well, perhaps; sorting out the various levels of preposterous tomfoolery in The Girl Before is a complex business—would you date the architect-owner of such a house? Women of The Girl Before clamor for the attentions of their landlord, who they consider not only charming but philosophically well-grounded. One observes with admiration, “You can see his points.” His style is minimalist. You design it for one way of life, so why not allow people to do as they please with it?
The Girl Before is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by British suspense writer JP Delaney (who, with British screenwriter Marissa Lestrade, wrote the adaptation). The BBC One production was broadcast in Great Britain last season, with mostly favorable reviews. That is why they threw out all of their TV critics with the tea.
The show follows the parallel stories of two young women (Emma, played by Jessica Plummer, and Jane, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who live in a highly wired but otherwise austerely designed house at One Folgate Street in London—but three years apart. Edward Oyelowo (David Oyelowo) is the one who seduces each of them. Star Wars: RebelsHe denies that his buildings are unusual. He says, “I don’t really consider myself a minimalist.” It’s amazing how much you can find when you eliminate everything that isn’t necessary or perfect.
Computer glitches are the exception. Some lights, stove burners, or showers turn off and on at will, some inconveniently, others a little more grave. The house’s data monitors—which Edward assures the women will only capture “almost nothing Google or Facebook wouldn’t know about you” (really, not exactly a comforting thought)—turn out to be a leviathan bank of blinking, beeping computers carefully concealed in a massive underground storage area. There are occasional signs of a supernatural presence, but they’re just that: red herrings. The Girl Before offers a goodly number of allusions to HauntingParticularly when it comes past deaths within the house it really owes it more to the libidinous artificial intelligence running wild through Julie Christie’s house Demon Seed.
In suspense film, red herrings are an axiom. The driving force The Girl BeforeThe filmmakers simply don’t understand the basics of TV/movie storytelling and send the film off-track. Jane and Emma share a similar story, which drives the suspense. Both are young, attractive business leaders, with bright futures. However, both have hidden fractures in their hearts (Emma was robbed by a burglar with knives; Jane had an unfortunate miscarriage). This makes them both vulnerable to manipulation.
After identically artless proposals (“I would like to be in a relationship”), each of them ends up with Edward, the stony, gruff man. They are then accompanied by identically boorish promises of sex that their relationships will not include “all the clutter of traditional relationships”, such as flowers, candlelight dinners or romantic gestures. Edward is the one who decides they’re tired. We can even see the split-scene effects where he gives the same gifts to both women.
While I don’t have Delany’s book in my hands, friends have told me that Delany keeps the stories of women separate from each other, and it is easy to see who’s doing what. That’s not the case in the TV show, where the stories are cross-cut so frequently, even within scenes, that it becomes difficult to tell which woman’s story you’re watching—especially when the two of them have such similar appearances. They start messing with their hairstyles as the series progresses. It is difficult morphs into near-impossible It feels like you are reliving every single scene, thanks to all of the double-crossing gimmickry. As any great minimalist will tell you, that’s 1.5 times too many.