Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Carlos Brooks
Starring Briana Evigan, Garret Dillahunt, Meat Loaf, Charlie Tahan
Distributed by Momentum Pictures
The premise for Carlos Brooks’ Burning Bright is so high concept that it’s hard to fathom just who on Earth wouldn’t find themselves immediately excited (or even curious) about seeing it – or, indeed, surprised that it hasn’t been done before. Thankfully, the film itself doesn’t disappoint.
Briana Evigan stars as Kelly. Forced to return home and face her stepfather Johnny (Garret Dillahunt playing the bad guy to a ‘T’ yet again) when her college tuition cheque bounces, she finds herself in for a much more terrifying evening than she bargained for.
See, her crazy stepdad has been using all of the money left behind by the passing of Kelly’s mother to create his very own safari park in the hopes of living the dream. His latest acquisition comes in the form of a tiger sourced from a traveling circus – handed over by rocker Meat Loaf, no less, who informs Johnny that this particular beast is being hastily offloaded as it is … evil! Oh, and as a disciplinary measure it hasn’t been fed for weeks…
Trapped in the barricaded house while a hurricane rages outside, Kelly attempts to comfort her autistic brother (Charlie Tahan) before discovering that not only has Johnny taken off to “the store” (read: local bar), but the aforementioned tiger is loose in the building with one thing on its mind: getting some chow!
Burning Bright really is a “does what it says on the tin” type of film. The story goes almost exactly the way you expect it to; there are no red herrings or mind-bending twists, no great surprises or needlessly convoluted plot points. Rather, it’s a lean beast of a story as two people try to survive while trapped in a house with a hungry tiger. No more, no less.
This is commendable overall, as from start to finish Burning Bright remains entertaining and tense. All of the cast members perform admirably in their roles: Dillahunt is excellent as the smarmy stepfather, Evigan spends most of the film performing sufficiently scared as her clothes threaten to slough from her sweaty body at any moment, while child actor Tahan does a swell job as her autistic brother who is both fascinated and frightened by the rampaging animal. His character leads to most of the more tense sequences as curiosity repeatedly places him in mortal danger, alongside some well constructed and suitably nail-biting stalk and attack scenes. There’s a level of primal fear that Burning Bright elicits in the viewer, especially in Kelly’s first encounter with the tiger. When it finally discovers her location and slowly looks up into the lens, the stare will involuntarily chill you to the bone.
Despite being restricted to one location once the action gets under way, Burning Bright moves at a chipper pace and rarely lets up once the striped stalker is aware that there is prey around. The filmmakers have also done a very good job with compositing the tiger into various scenes with the actors – who were never on set with the actual beast – except for perhaps one or two instances where lighting gives the game away. A bedroom battle between the would-be victims and vicious predator stands out as one of the most impressively edited sequences, truly making you believe that our leads have been confronted by a real tiger.
While it remains an impressively tense effort, Burning Bright does have a few shortcomings beyond the aforementioned sporadically ropey compositing: First, some unbelievable choices made by the characters leave a bad taste in the mouth, and Kelly’s brother repeatedly being the catalyst for the major attack scenes becomes rather tiresome and lazy. The lack of violence also feels a little too remiss – with some reworking of the script, more than one death would have increased the threat level of the tiger beyond mere words (and, as mentioned earlier, the primal awareness that coming face to face with a tiger is NOT something you want).
Still, Burning Bright remains a hell of a good time and definitely one for an energetic Saturday night in. The simple premise is pulled off with aplomb, creating an enjoyable white-knuckle ride that unfortunately falls just short of greatness. Recommended.
Momentum Pictures’ DVD release of Burning Bright is very well presented in terms of video and audio with the raging storm nicely engaging the soundstage. In terms of special features, however, this UK version provides only the trailer.
• Theatrical Trailer
3 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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