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Burning Bright: The Review

Director: Carlos Brooks

Cast: Briana Evigan, Charlie Tahan, Garrett Dillahunt, Meatloaf

Plot: Kelly (Evigan) lives with her autistic ten year old brother and her stepfather, struggling to make ends meet, when one evening she wakes up to find her stepfather missing and a starved tiger in the house.

Finally! A director got it right! Someone actually made a decent B Movie monster flick! I am cracking open the champagne!

Kelly is a girl breaking under the stress of her home life. She is tasked with looking after her autistic brother, Tom, when her mother purposefully overdoses on pills, not quite trusting her carefree stepfather, who seems more interested in turning their house into a make-your-own safari park. However, Kelly has just hit 20 and wants to move to college, to actually have a life of her own. As much as she loves her brother, his condition is driving her mad, as her whole life is devoted to caring for him. He hates the colour red. He hates being touched. He obsesses over his mother’s things. Just as Kelly realises she can either leave Tom with her stepfather or give up her dreams of going to college, she wakes up to find the house boarded up. In the hurricane affecting the area, one of her stepfather’s main attractions, a Bengal Tiger breaks into the house and Kelly finds herself and Tom trapped in with the tiger, locked apart from the outside world with the family’s hurricane defence system. Kelly is sent on a frantic dash for survival, not only trying to keep the tiger away from herself, but from Tom, whose condition leaves him unable to register what is happening.

I seriously cannot get over how well made this film is. Carlos Brooks neatly sidesteps every painful mistake I have encountered since I started B Movie Wednesdays and creates a genuinely terrifying and thrilling horror. I wanted to review a creature feature for my next one and this one stood out because it had a tiger as the villain other than the usual suspects (eg: a shark or crocodile). I love tigers and maybe the best thing Brooks has done with this film is get a real tiger to be in the film. I was braced for a terrible CGI Sher Khan pouncing through this film, but the moment I saw an actual Bengal Tiger on the screen, I rejoiced. They are such beautiful animals and I went into this flick, deciding that the ‘make or break’ point of the film would be how well they did the tiger. It must have been a nightmare to get permission to use the tiger and to film it in this movie, but I am glad Brooks took the risk, because Burning Bright is so much better a movie for it. It also means that the tiger is used sparingly, so this movie doesn’t use its secret card too quick, as most of these B Movies do (eg: Dinoshark). Because it is kept out of shot quite a lot, it builds up the tension, so when it does appear, its few scenes are brilliant. The only time using a tiger fell into B Movie category was the occasional shot where it was clearly photo-shopped in with the actors (particularly the ten year old boy), but I was willing to let that slide, just for the sheer fact that Brooks worked hard to get a real tiger in.

His next success was rounding up a lesser known, but great cast. Briana Evigan is the perfect leading lady. We’ve encountered her before; she was one of the better cast members in Sorority Row. Evigan’s character is a perfect fit here: she is gorgeous enough to keep the B Movie fans happy, yet she never becomes a helpless horror movie victim. In fact, she is a bloody clever hero, coming up with ways out of situations that would have never occurred to me. This tiger would have killed me within the first ten minutes of the movie! I hope to see more of Evigan in future movies, please. However, star of the show must go to the actor who plays the autistic kid. After the tiger, my main worry was that the director would fall down on casting a kid, who could act a character with special needs. My worries were put at ease, because the child actor in question feels very realistic as a kid suffering from autism. He captures the fish out of water element and the shell-shocked expressions were really good. While we are here, I must commend Evigan for playing the carer well too. She captured the little tricks and gestures used to communicate with disabled children very well; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if the actress spent some time with autistic children to prepare for the role. It is a sensitive topic and it is handled well.

In fact, the relationship between sister and brother is so good, that it is the spark that really makes this movie excellent. In a way, I couldn’t help but feel that Brooks wanted to tell a story about a sister looking out for her special needs brother, while trying to stand on her own two feet. The tiger stalking them throughout the house is simply a canvas to bring in a wider audience to his touching story about their relationship. We could read the tiger, and to a lesser degree, the hurricane as a metaphor for their story: it is them against the world and they really do band together to overcome the obstacles.

Final Verdict: Burning Bright comes out of nowhere. You come in looking for a movie about a tiger hunting a teenage girl, but the story and acting make this much better than you thought it would. A tremendous movie.

Four Stars