From the very beginning of “Before the World Set on Fire”, writer and director Jacyln Bethany has us feeling lost and confused. That’s exactly how she wants us.
The film takes place after an unidentifiable virus, aka “The Sweat”, breaks out at a college. Anya Davis, a professor at the college, has to conduct her seminars online. During one of them one of her students jumps out his window to his death. However, only a couple minutes into the film, Anya is being questioned by an investigator before us as viewers know that has even happened.
Jacyln Bethany uses the virus as a distraction, guiding our minds into thinking it had something to do with why Anya was getting questioned only to pop that thought bubble halfway through the film. The seminar scenes take place in a Zoom call so they feel a bit hectic with everyone doing their own thing in their webcams and talking over each other, but, that feeling can help the viewer relate to Anya in how overwhelmed she seems with everything going on.
The first seminar drags a bit, it’s close to a thirty minute scene, but afterwards is where this film really picks up the suspense. There’s a couple factors in Anya’s life that are very lightly touched on, her relationship with her daughter, her relationship with another professor, and her relationship with Wilder, a student in her seminar. All are used to add tension and curiosity, and the fact that each relationship isn’t deeply explored only heightens those factors .
Overall, besides some scenes that personally felt a bit too shaky, the film was quite gripping. The film ends leaving the viewer feeling just like they did at the start and exactly how Jacyln Bethany intended.
“Before the World Set on Fire” premiers at New Orleans Film Festival on November 5, 2023.