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January 6, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #53 - Burning Bright

When I first heard about Burning Bright, a 2010 thriller in which a young girl and her autistic brother are terrorized by a man-eating tiger, I lusted for it with nefarious intent.  Surely, this was gonna be the kind of movie I could vigorously mock; the kind of movie I could make Eye of the Tiger jokes about, the type of movie that I could eventually cal Grrrrr-eat!  I sought it out under those assumptions, but when I got it...I got something different.  Something that was surprisingly...competent.  My thrill-seeking mind was pleased, yet the film wasn't laughable.  What the heck was going on here?

Let's break it down.  First of all, the film opens on the side of a highway where a man (Garrett Dillahunt of No Country for Old Men and The Last House on the Left) is attempting to purchase a tiger from a grizzled man...played by MEAT LOAF.  Now, if you want to draw The Mike in to a might want to throw Meat Loaf at him.  (Not literally, of course, that would be dangerous.)  The scene sets the tone for the film, as Dillahunt's character seems to take the situation lightly, while Mr. Loaf recounts the reason this tiger is for sale - because it went haywire and slaughtered a horse at its last circus - with a grave tone.  It's a simple cameo for the most famous actor/rocker named after a protein-filled dish, but it had me hooked from the start. 
The next introduction involves Dillahunt's character's stepdaughter (played by Sorority Row star Briana Evigan) and her autistic brother.  She's set to head off to college while he's being placed in a special school that can deal with his needs, but the check bounces.  Turns out, stepdad cleaned out the bank account to create his "Safari Ranch" buying a tiger.  The stepkids head home to confront the situation, but in the meantime the house has been boarded up...because there's a hurricane coming.

If you've heard something more ridiculous today, I'd like to hear it.  But the stars align for Burning Bright, and suddenly we've got a tiger, a hurricane, an autistic, and a young woman who's not hard on the eyes and has that raspy Demi Moore voice.  You can imagine what happens next: stepdad disappears, Evigan's Kelly starts to freak about her school situation, and the tiger ends up loose - and hungry - in the inescapable house.
I wouldn't necessarily say that Burning Bright takes a "slow burn" approach to creating tension, but when the film only has two characters and one of them doesn't form sentences, it runs the risk of losing steam.  What surprised me most about the film was how briskly it moved.  The plot is entirely wrapped up by the explanation I've given, yet director Carlos Brooks finds interesting ways to keep the tension up as Kelly and her brother struggle to deal with the beast in their home.

It also helps that Brooks avoids CGI almost entirely, using three REAL tigers and a lot of green screen technology to put the cast in front of a deadly killer.  An early scene involving Evigan, the tiger, and a laundry chute is very effective, and there's a lot of intrigue as the game of cat-and-young lady plays out.  The tigers look dangerous, (yet kinda cute, I love kitties), and Evigan is a fine visual lead for a script with little dialogue.
 Like the best b-movies, Burning Bright takes its premise very seriously, yet it doesn't suffer from the groan-worthy developments we'd expect from something we see on SyFy.  There are a couple of slips (the brother seems to have been written as autistic simply to add to Kelly's plight; the final reveal is a little obvious; an iron should not be used as a hammer), but the film feels more serious than I ever expected it would.
Maybe I'm overreacting to Burning Bright - it's happened before - because there's something about this kind of simple, serious creature feature that I just love.  It's no Jaws or Gojira, but it's incredibly practical and efficient.  Compared to my meager expectations for a film of this sort, Burning Bright is one of the most surprising horror films I've come across in recent memory.  I'm sorry that I took it for granted, and I look forward to a future in which tiger-based horror cinema is a very real thing.


Christine Hadden said...

Ahhh! I just watched this film TONIGHT! Yay! Bad thing is, I was going to review it - but you did such a bang up job I don't think I could top it.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little thriller as well, and though the premise seems preposterous, I thought the edge of your seat tension (in particular the laundry chute scene!) was a refreshing change from all the dreck I have seen lately.

Great review - and for anyone who hasn't seen Burning Bright - take our word for it - it's absolutely worthwhile viewing.

The Mike said...

Thanks Christine! This is one of those movies that made me feel kind of crazy for actually liking it, so glad to hear that I'm not wrong. :)

Matt-suzaka said...

I had been eagerly anticipating seeing Burning Bright for so long after hearing about its premise. I seem to be one of the few, but the idea of a tiger trapped in a house with a chick and her autistic brother during a hurricane sounds like a ticket to heaven.

Thankfully, my excitement and the hype I built up didn't lead to disappointment. As you brought up, the pacing is good and never does the film lull, plus, that entire second act is so tense! And using opticals and camera tricks to have the real tiger in all of the scenes was the right way to go. It's not perfect looking, but it looks way better than if it were done with CGI.

Great review and I'm happy to see that other people are enjoying this film. It's a true gen from 2010 that deserves a little more recognition.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I just added this to my Netflix earlier today. It's definitely moving up the queue now. Great review!

Jinx said...

When I first heard about this I didn't think it could be real as the concept sounded so silly. I'm completely intrigued now though. And as it comes recommended by both you and Ms Hadden, I've got to see it. Great review. Hell yeah, Meatloaf!