Post Millennial Trauma: Burning Bright (2010)
I’m nearly up to date with my little journey through the best that the 21st Century has to offer in horror films. I did, I have to say, look at 2010 with some trepidation. Nothing particularly leapt out and made a strong case for inclusion, but there were several very solid films of a similar standard- The Crazies was a pleasant surprise, given that it’s a remake that didn’t suck, and Daybreakers was a good stab at a new iteration of that horror mainstay, Vampires. However, on the basis that Koutch already reviewed Daybreakers, and I haven’t really got a lot to say about it that he didn’t cover, and Xi did a sterling job with The Crazies, I thought I would give this little film that slipped under the radar a write up.
The title “Burning Bright” comes, and I’m sorry if I’m patronising anyone with this, from a William Blake poem contained in Songs of Innocence and Experience. Blake was a grade-A lunatic who used to get off his tits on opium and then paint truly bizarre stuff and write strange poetry. In the nude. He also used to wander around his garden, in the buff, declaiming Milton. Nevertheless, pointless digression aside, Burning Bright is from the poem “Tiger Tiger” so no shocks at all at guessing what this film is about: that’s right, it’s about a trampoline.
Only joking, it’s about a large and angry tiger tormenting and attempting to eat a hot chick in her underwear. As the meerkat says: “Simples”.
Meet Johnny Gaveneau (Garret Dillahunt). Johnny is an arsehole. He’s blown his stepdaughter and autistic son’s inheritance on an idiotic Safari park idea, including a huge tiger. He’s given basic “how to look after a tiger” advice, which he pays no attention to. At home, Kelly (Briana Evigan)is planning on going to college and putting her autistic brother Tom (Charlie Taham) into a specialised institution, when she discovers that Johnny has blown her cash on said tiger. To say she is unimpressed is a masterpiece of litotes. In the meantime, there’s a hurricane due, and Johnny has secured the house by nailing all the windows and doors shut. Johnny decides to bugger off to the pub for the duration of the storm, and no sooner has he gone than someone’s let the tiger loose in the house with the two Taylor’s inside. The rest of the film follows Kelly’s increasingly frantic attempts to avoid being turned into kitty-chow.
The strength of this film is in its simplicity. There isn’t a lot to describe here, because in a nutshell it’s about a hungry tiger attempting to eat a nubile teenager, who’s desperately trying to preserve herself and her brother. That’s it. Think Jaws, except with a tiger in a sealed up house. The vast majority of the run time follows just Kelly and the Tiger, and to say that it’s tense is a pretty big understatement. Burning Bright is absolutely riveting. This is one of a few films released in 2009/2010 (House of the Devil is the other candidate that springs to mind) that relies utterly on a central performance from a young woman. In House of the Devil, Jocelyn Donahue puts in a barnstorming turn as the Babysitter and it’s no exaggeration to say that she carries the film single-handedly. Briana Evigan in this case, doesn’t have to portray mounting dread by herself- the tiger will do that for her, but what she has to do is convincingly portray desperation and the tenacity to survive against all odds. I’m a big fan of Evigan here- her version of Kelly is sympathetic and highly capable (and she looks nice in her underwear) and I did find myself rooting for her, something that is absolutely essential in a little film like this one. She’s so good actually, that I’m tempted to watch the other films she’s in (aside from Koutch’s favourite: Step up 2 Da Streets- which will be mince), and in a fair world, she’d definitely be one to watch out for in future. Dillahunt is good as Johnny, sleazy and obviously incompetent. It’s a good, albeit minor, turn. Finally, Taham is passable in the “retard” role.
There are a couple of stand-out sequences here. I’d have to name the clinging on up the Laundry chute while the tiger stalks about underneath and attempts to fish her out as my favourite bit of the film. I was literally sitting right on the edge of my seat- and it’s a simply stunning scene. Unfortunately, this comes far too early in the film, and it can’t really get back up to these heights. Burning Bright is still very good- but this scene is a real splash of genius. All credit must go to director Carlos Brooks. He’s got almost no budget, and so there’s a feeling of sparseness to the film, a feeling that every single penny has ended up on screen. More films should follow this approach.
On the flip side, aside from that the laundry chute scene comes too early, is that the last third is a touch repetitive. It’s clear that she’s basically running in circles around the house to escape from the tiger, and it’s not going to fall for this forever. The script does seem to run out of steam. For example, she escapes and then returns which is just sloppy writing by any description. Oh, and I got a slap from Mrs. Jarv when I suggested that she should feed the kid to the tiger and then escape while it’s snacking on him. I blame the film entirely for this.
Overall this is a stomping little film that unfairly ended up in DTV hell. It’s exciting, tense, and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s so good, actually, that I’m going to dig up the director’s debut as I believe that he’s got some real talent and I’m interested to see what else he’s capable of. Burning Bright is an astonishingly simple premise, but simplicity isn’t always a bad thing. When the film is playing to its strengths you’ll be absolutely glued to the screen- it’s a blast. I give it 3 Tony the Tigers out of 4, because it really is “Grrrrreat” and I do admit I’m docking the last one for the last third of the film.
I’m now at 2011- which I haven’t got a clue what to do. All suggestions would be welcome. From this moment on, I’m just picking exceptional films from the 21st Century and penning the review and I’ve got some crackers to go at.
Until next time,