"Instead of rooms filled with forbidding portraits and molding clutter, 1 Folgate Street contains hardly anything at all," says Sophie Gilbert. "It has no skeletons in its closets (it barely has closets at all—there’s a single one for clothes, a reminder that residents should exorcize everything from their lives except the perfect essentials). If the house contains evil, it’s found in the aesthetics. This is architecture created to control." She adds: "The story itself is very silly, involving doppelgängers and death, a fleet of bad men (burglars, abusers, partners who insist on picking one’s outfits), even supposed ancient rites of human sacrifice."
The Girl Before serves up too much rehash: "You’d be forgiven for watching the opening setup of HBO Max’s The Girl Before and feeling like you’ve been here before. Maybe it’s the Hitchcockian setup of a man exerting psychological control over a woman in order to replicate a past relationship, like in Vertigo or Rebecca," says Clint Worthington. "Maybe it’s the airport-thriller intrigue of a woman solving a murder mystery within the confines of her home, like The Girl on the Train or The Woman in the Window (or, as we saw all too recently, The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window). The Girl Before taps into all of these conventions and anxieties (and more), but despite strong performances and some stylish direction, it can’t quite stick the landing."
The Girl Before revives the erotic thriller: "As a genre, the erotic thriller has been underserved since its heyday in the ’90s, but seeing actors of Oyelowo and Mbatha-Raw’s caliber in a steamy new entry bodes well for its future—and perhaps speaks to the way that it could continue to thrive. In the future, the erotic thriller could delve deep into trauma, redemption, and three-dimensional, complicated female characters whose failures and triumphs aren’t defined by their effect on the men around them," says Leila Latif. "That, like in The Girl Before, no matter how similar two characters look, they are written and performed well enough that they remain (mostly) distinct from one another, and are afforded agency in their own narratives while being lavished with impressively stylish direction."
Gugu Mbatha-Raw agrees the real star of The Girl Before is the house: “It’s a cleansing space for her to recalibrate her sense of self," says the actress. In making 1 Folgate Street, production designer Jon Henson says: “I really wanted it to sometimes feel calm and safe, a sanctuary, and sometimes like a prison." When author JP Delaney, who adapted his own novel, was writing The Girl Before, he was interested in taking the British gothic tradition of creaking manor houses, and “flipping that into something that is austere and modern, where the ghosts are all in people’s minds." He adds: "Most designed houses are a collaboration between the architect and the client, but with minimalism you buy into the vision of the architect. It’s a psychological form of architecture right away.”
David Oyelowo wasn't sure he could play a stone-cold seducer: "It was something I hadn’t done before, but also something I didn’t really know I could do," he says. “He’s someone who you have to believe he can attract these women, but also someone who there is something questionable about all at the same time and that’s a bit of a juggling act. But I like a challenge.”