Before They Vanish spends time weaving some decent drama and Western beauty into its inspired story.
Published on April 12, 2023
Rating 3 /5
There’s a surprising amount of beauty and heart to Before They Vanish. Despite lacking acting occasionally, the slow pacing and tender tone work in bits and pieces. A film like this that wants to portray a sense of existential crisis, warm bonds, and problems of the prairie requires a certain level of visual flair to sell that atmosphere. For the most part, this picture hits that aspect well.
The film centers around Frank Kuntz, a Vietnam vet who has spent his life caring for some astounding horses, about 300 total. Times are tough for Frank as he struggles to find the funds to maintain his connection with his horses. The horses become his drive in life and a means of helping others. Those with mental conditions grow fond of the horses in the many visits that slowly make them venture out of their comfort zone and become more expressive. Maintaining this lifestyle becomes more complicated when he receives terrible news regarding his cancer, giving him less time to care for his legacy of horses.
There’s this quiet sense of fighting off the hopeless nature of the twilight years throughout the film. There’s not a lot of music present to force this mood, and it’s a good call. So much of the film is immaculately shot, even for a movie with a rather pale color palette. Everything from the vastness of the land to the spaces on the farm has extraordinary beauty to them. Watching the many horses grace the screen in various wide shots is extraordinary.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that the film was directed by actors who are slightly uncomfortable in front of the camera. While the acting is far from some lesser indie films that tap some friends for an afternoon of filming, there’s a handful of scenes where the delivery leaves one begging for a second take to hit it home. This leads to lines that meander too much in trying to sell the natural nature of these characters to the point where their small talk feels more forced than it should. Thankfully, Frank does the best job of trying to be a stoic and frustrated man who maintains his hope that tomorrow will be better, despite how many falls he keeps taking to get the money he desperately needs. Thankfully, the script here is tactile enough that it doesn’t feel like the actors have to try too hard with this material, considering they seem to more or less be playing themselves.
Before They Vanish spends time weaving some decent drama and Western beauty into its inspired story. While the acting is easily the weakest aspect of the film, it’s made up for by the astounding quality of the footage and the faithfulness in selling a moseying tale of despair. It’s clear a movie like this was made with love and, thankfully, doesn’t try to overamplify a relatable story worth telling. A lesser film might’ve spent half its running time using hours of horse footage shot. This film dices that footage perfectly, where it always feels like humanity is present and sadness looms for a concerned horse trainer amid the awe-inspiring countryside. As far as budgeted Americana films go, this is one of the better ones.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.