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Nowhere to Run or Hide in ‘Before I’m Dead’

The aftermath of a mass shooting is the timely and chilling context to this psychological thriller. There is also the film’s setting — nearly all the action is confined to protagonist Nolan Cruise’s Los Angeles apartment where he has holed up as he wrestles with his trauma — which provides the timely twist of the potential for mental breakdown or deterioration during quarantine.

The film is directed and co-written by J.R. Sawyers who also stars as Nolan. When we meet him, he’s spending his days and nights watching TV, drinking and opening the apartment door only to accept a food delivery. A zoom session with his therapist who encourages him to get out and reconnect with people ends with Nolan insisting he’s fine. But flashbacks make clear why Nolan has become agoraphobic. A dinner in a restaurant with Nolan chatting opposite his wife Carla (Camille Montgomery) turns into a nightmare as gunmen enter and open fire and Carla is among those killed.

Nolan is clearly suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Pretty soon, he’s seeing dead people; first chatting with a very-much-alive Carla and then seeing himself, bloodied and lifeless, in the bathtub. His downstairs neighbor threatens to call police because he claims Nolan is making an endless racket even through Nolan appears to be very much alone — or is he?

Things get stranger when his cell phone appears to be a portal to the past and to the future. Time travel is a recurring theme since Nolan, with Carla next to him, watched “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Other horror movies playing on TV seem to echo in Nolan’s life, including the doppelgänger who turns up to torment him.

These mind bending events can sometimes be confusing but they’re never boring. Nolan’s desperate plea, “I’m going crazy!” is an understatement as the film takes him further away from reality. Sawyers is an able actor and, as director, handles the twists and turns, psychological and physical as the bodies mount, with a mix of suspense and black humor.

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