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By Amy R. Handler | March 10, 2014

A man living on the fringe of society, with no hopes for the future, receives an unexpected phone call that could change his life forever. But will he live long enough to meet the challenge the caller demands?

Shawn Christensen’s premiere feature film, Before I Disappear, tells the story of Richie, a perpetually down-on-his-luck maintenance worker at a seedy club on the downside of town. The club is a haven for the desperate seeking sex, fast cash and heroin. When cleaning the women’s rest room one night, Richie sees something in one of the stalls that no one ever should. The next thing he knows, Richie is threatened by one of his two mafia-type bosses, ordering him not to say a word about his findings.

Back at home, Richie ducks one of many moneylenders, promising death or worse, if eight-hundred dollars is not paid by the next day. Just as Richie is about to end his poor existence with a blade, the phone rings. The caller at the other end is his long estranged sister Maggie, imploring Richie to pick up her young daughter Sophia at the child’s school assembly. Stymied and dripping in the blood of his failed suicide attempt, Richie agrees to meet Sophia. What happens next is astounding, and then some…

Before I Disappear is one of those rare movies that you can view over and over again and discover something new and wonderful. It is also shockingly believable and relatable, in spite of the fact that most of us would like to believe that such life-circumstances could never happen to them. There is literally nothing in Christensen’s film that I can pick apart.

The script is beautifully written with realistic dialogue that never misses a beat. Each actor works in sync with the others and all are outstanding. And though I am prone to disliking filmmakers in principal roles, I stand in awe of Shawn Christensen’s utterly amazing portrayal of Richie.

Young Fatima Ptacek is magical, as the annoying and very special Sophia. It is also wonderful to see the superbly talented Paul Wesley step outside of his Vampire Diaries character to explore the multi-faceted Gideon. Equally joyful is re-discovering the legendary Ron Perlman, who continues to be as versatile an actor, as ever.

As a critic, I pride myself on never reading the reviews of others before I write my own. I also tend to avoid the IMDb pages of filmmakers until after writing my review. So you can imagine my surprise (or perhaps, not) when I discovered that Before I Disappear is the long version of an Oscar winning short that Shawn Christensen created in 2012, called Curfew. Needless to say, Christensen is a most impressive writer, director and actor— and one to watch in the future. As for Before I Disappear, it would not shock me in the least if the film won an Academy Award in 2015.

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