In Before the Fall, writer and director Byrum Geisler presents a familiar assortment of rambling, lovestruck characters. Familiar, because Geisler bases his debut feature film off of one of Jane Austen’s most recognizable works, Pride and Prejudice. Not a bad idea at all, considering Austen’s remarkable work has managed to survive everything from the mousy quirks of Bridget Jones to the full-on assault of a zombie apocalypse. However, in Geisler’s version of the story, Pride comes with a rainbow flag and Prejudice is seen in the rampant homophobia plaguing the rural south.
The sleepy town of Abingdon, Virginia, is where Ben Bennett (played by Ethan Sharrett) runs a successful law practice and longs for a dependable lover, often amusing himself with the antics of his closest friends, Lyle and Kittner (played by Daniel Wallen and Bryan Pridgen, respectively). When attorney George Wickham (Jonathan Horvath) breezes into town, Bennett quickly takes notice. Naturally, Wickham and Bennett fall hard and fast for one another, leading the latter to believe he may have found what he’s been looking for, even if only for a short while. That is, of course, until Mr. Lee Darcy enters the picture.
Meanwhile, the nature-loving Chuck Bingley (Jason Mac) spends much of his time hiking in the mountains, surrounded by rich colors and autumn breezes. After inviting her for a few hikes, Bingley discovers there’s one thing he might actually love more than the fresh mountain air, and that’s Miss Jane Gardiner (played by Brandi Price).
Fraught with love and misunderstanding, Geisler cleverly elects to replace Austen’s frequent English garden strolls with these numerous mountain hikes through the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. Just as Austen did, these private moments in nature give the characters a place to talk, bond, and, at times, fall in love. Geisler also made the choice to portray love with an equal level of passion, whether homosexual or heterosexual – perhaps a small bridge over the wide gap that currently exists between LGBT and mainstream filmmaking.
Janeites may be rather disappointed, however, in Geisler’s interpretation; particularly upon discovering the once-proud Mr. Darcy (played by Chase Conner) has been reduced to a cranky and closeted blue-collar worker with a drinking problem and a woman he doesn’t love anymore (Carol Marie Rinn). When Ben Bennett insults Lee Darcy, a general hatred for one another develops, putting Darcy on the outside of Abingdon’s social circles and creating an awkward love-hate relationship in Ben’s eyes.
In truth, Geisler’s upside down look at Pride and Prejudice is a rather clever LGBT film, yet sadly misses the mark when it comes to matching the wit and warmth present in most re-writes (yes, even the zombie one…). Geisler opted to eliminate or merge many of Austen’s secondary and tertiary characters for a more simplified story, and he does rather well to illustrate how homosexual relationships perhaps carry the same stigma as marrying outside of your social class did in the early 1800s. However, we’re just a few lighthearted Austenian one-liners short of a garden party.