Film: Burning Bright ****
Director: Carlos Brooks
Starring: Briana Evigan, Garret Dillahunt, Meat Loaf
Release Date: Out Now
Reviewer: Adam Wing
It was my girlfriend who explained to me why Carlos Brooks' debut feature is called Burning Bright, apparently it’s a reference to a William Blake poem published in 1794. Glad we cleared that one up. The concept is nothing if not unique, a young girl (Briana Evigan) is trapped inside a house with her autistic brother during a hurricane while being menaced by a man-eating tiger. You read that right, a man-eating tiger. It might read ridiculous on paper but it works, probably because Burning Bright introduces the scariest tiger since Tony started enticing small children with his sugar coated cornflakes.
As with all good horror movies, you also need a strong female lead and Briana Evigan (Sorority Row) more than makes up for her annoying little brother. It feels wrong to insult a child actor portraying an autistic boy, but even older sister Kelly (Evigan) seems to get fed up with him after a while. She slams his food down on the table and sends him alone to his room, even though there’s a famished Bengal tiger roaming the house. And they’re supposed to be family, so you know, that’s ok then. I don’t feel bad about slapping my head and screaming ‘Eat. Tiger. Now’ at the TV screen anymore, well maybe just a little bit.
Johnny Gavineau (Garret Dillahunt) is a man with a plan. After the untimely passing of his wife, he decides to convert their former home into a safari park complete with wild animals. Enter the one and only Meat Loaf (yes that Meat Loaf) who just so happens to be selling a beautiful but deadly Bengal tiger. There is a catch however, because this is no ordinary Bengal tiger. Turns out that this particular Bengal tiger is pure evil, which as luck would have it, is just what Johnny Gavineau is looking for.
With his evil tiger in tow, Gavineau heads back home, ready to embark on a killing spree of his own. With a hurricane on the way, Johnny boards up the house and sets the starving beast loose so he can collect on his dead wife’s insurance policy. I’m sure he’s just a little misunderstood, that’s all. For the next sixty minutes Burning Bright turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse, as our fearsome perpetrator crashes through doors, chases girls up laundry chutes and bursts through walls to get them.
With Burning Bright, Carlos Brooks has delivered an exhilarating and suspenseful ride. Comparisons to horror classic Halloween might seem like a stretch, but there’s more than a hint of early John Carpenter to Brooks’ efficient delivery. Some of the set pieces echo that of Halloween as well, one particular moment is almost note perfect, but it’s amazing just how much tension a talented director can draw from such limited resources.
A scene in which our ravenous villain chases Kelly up the laundry chute is beautifully orchestrated, overflowing with drama and trepidation. The first sight of Tony peering up the laundry chute is one of the films many highlights, second only to an uplifting lead performance from Briana Evigan. I don’t want to sell the girl short, but man she has a sexy voice. She’s a fine actress as well, that goes without saying, but the fact that she doesn't get a chance to slip into something less comfortable is one of the films biggest selling points. Witnessing Kelly crawl through a tiny window, soaking wet, is the most erotic thing I’ve seen all year. But then again, it has been suggested that I need to get out more.
There are a few minor irritants however. The autistic brother/sister dynamic proves to be a little too melodramatic at times, and the characters don’t always behave in the way you might expect. If you did somehow escape the clutches of a grumpy Bengal Tiger, would you really take the time to stand on the porch step and reflect upon the situation? There’s a good chance you’d be too busy running for your life to care. Not only that, but the closing moments also disappointed me, not for the reasons you might expect however.
The previous ninety minutes had felt both fresh and exciting, seeping unadulterated adrenaline overloaded with tension. Even though the ending proves to be just deserts for one of the films main characters, I was slightly let down by the fact that somebody had to die. How often can you say that in this day and age, that you were somehow frustrated that a horror movie dared to kill off one of its leading characters?
Some of the effects shots are obvious as well, slightly hampering the films actuality, but that’s just nitpicking – for the most part Burning Bright burns brighter than most. It truly is an impressive debut then, and one that almost passed me by, but Burning Bright demands to be seen by every self respecting horror fan. Loaded with thrills and alluring game, Carlos Brooks has made the unworkable workable, delivering a master class in suspense and terror.
I’d go as far to say that this is the best giant-tiger-stalking-people-in-a-house movie I have ever seen. Right then, time to check out some pictures of Briana Evigan on Google, all in the name of research of course.