Arguably, the end of a movie is the most important part, as it can greatly affect the audience’s final opinion. Signs is a good movie remembered more for its poor ending while Sleepaway Camp is another generic slasher until its twist gives the audience the shaft. Released in 2017, Before We Vanish is a Japanese science fiction movie that demonstrates the impact of a movie’s ending.
Before We Vanish is the story of an impending alien invasion, but the focus is more on relationships than humanity’s potential extinction. The film follows husband and wife Shinji and Nurumi Kase and reluctant new traveling partners Sakurai, Amano, and Akira Tachibana. All the tropes are there for a run-of-the-mill sci-fi movie, but Before We Vanish goes in a different direction. It’s not about people finding the hero inside themselves, but about love, trust, and change. Alien invaders are used as a plot device to tell a deeper story.
Before We Vanish has the engaging characters needed to effectively tell a strong, narrative-driven story. Early in the movie, the audience learns that Shinji has lost his wife’s trust. Despite this, Nurumi tries to help her husband through the strange illness he has. Masami Nagasawa is great in the role of the frustrated wife. Her love for her husband is a very important part of her character. She is obviously frustrated and confused, but clearly still loves Shinji and Nagasawa portrays these conflicting emotions perfectly. An equally strong performance from Ryuhei Matsuda as Shinji develops the emotional core of the movie.
Sakurai, Amano, and Akira do the movie’s “heavy lifting,” having the majority of the action scenes and less subtle comedic exchanges. The trio are a reprieve from the Kase’s love story, but their scenes are also filled with issues not normally found in alien invasion movies. From almost the first meeting between Sakurai and Amano, trust is an important issue. Initially, it’s about the trust between the two of them, but it progresses to trust of the human race, government, media, and humanity in general.
Before We Vanish does a great job of continually surprising its audience. Its shocking opening is counter to the emotional love story it becomes. There are no heroes or villains, and this is not another cautionary tale about how humans are Earth’s real enemy. The special effects that have come to be expected in a movie about an alien attack are not found since this is a character-driven film. Despite this, Before We Vanish is beautiful and does some great work with lighting and shadow. The movie constantly leads the audience in a familiar direction before seamlessly changing to something different.
Before We Vanish is far from perfect. It’s clearly a science fiction thriller, yet the music is comical and Tim Burton-esque. Pacing is also an issue. The movie takes its time in dealing with its many issues. The storytelling is great and the characters are fleshed out, but when the actual plot advances, it does so rapidly. Problems are solved instantly and questions are resolved with little thought. It is odd that the writers would take so much effort and care in crafting the characters, but spend seemingly no time on the plot. This definitely would have been better as a mini-series when speedy plot advancement can be better hidden.
Unfortunately, the ending of Before We Vanish destroys almost all the goodwill the movie has built. The characters, writing, story and look of the movie are different from any science fiction movie. It is refreshing and captivating to watch, so it’s depressing when the last ten minutes become a series of cliched actions and corny lines. During the film’s climax, the film becomes predictable, boring, and nonsensical.
Before We Vanish does so many things right and almost breaks out out of the pack of science fiction movies. Unfortunately, the great characters and ideas are wasted on what is evenutally exposed as a paper thin plot. There is a lot to like, but the ending essentially ruins a great movie.
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