Friday, 28 September 2012

Burning Bright (2010)

Your mother has committed suicide. Your brother has autism. Your stepfather has robbed you of your inheritance, your future, your dreams of independence and set up a safari ranch in your back yard.

You sit, stewing, angry, depressed, lost to a future as a handmaid to your brother's outbursts that to you, sad and exhausted, sucked of all vitality and hope, appear as the whims of a spoilt brat.

As caged animals gather outside, a hurricane approaches. The windows are being boarded up. You don't know that a horror film set is being...

...built around you.

Night falls and Kelly dreams of slipping out of bed with a pillow and smothering her brother. She awakes in a cold sweat on the roar of a wild animal, the manifestation of all her worries, her invisible adversaries, come together.

Up and about, dazed by guilt and slumber, she spots something at the bottom of the steps that halts her own. The nightmare. Hers isn't a run-of-the-mill disaster movie for a common-or-garden moral storm; no, for a fate as pathetic as hers, the fallacy must be loftier and more elegant. Stalking the empty rooms and halls is her stepfather's prize attraction, now prize ally in opposing and ending his own sea of troubles: a tiger.

She discovers that even the door has been boarded up. There are no chinks of light, no bright lit exit sign. She drags Tom into a bare room, undecorated but for two standing lights, like those you might find on a TV or movie production. It is like she is off-set and the panic oscillates between the two implications of a space like this: "you're safe here" and "no script can help you".

From room to room they go, stalking safety. From a purely dramatic standpoint the siblings make a brilliant pair. She is tense, terrified, always thinking. He is emotionless and blank (his autism isn't played for sympathy) even in the face of a jungle predator roaming the downstairs loo.

It is exceedingly claustrophobic - the house is dark and the low hum of the hurricane buffeting against the boards is another layer of oppression.

Kelly seems ready to burst, eat up from the inside and always a step away from being eaten up from the outside. Room to manoeuvre narrows and the close shaves accumulate. They hide in a laundry chute (cleaning of stains, sins?), in a freezer (long-term preservation?), in a closet (secrets?), under a bed (over-reading?) but the tiger can jump, can burst through walls, can reach its claws into the tightest spaces.

All the while point of view shots are well used, the glass of the screen becoming the lens of our eye, ever close to being scratched and gouged.

The tiger isn't vindictive or sadistic or playful. It's a tiger. It does however have a piercing stare and a desire (it licks Kelly's sweat off the kitchen floor) for flesh. The situation is (obviously) contrived, the story off-the-wall, but the actions of the animal and the people are not. Kelly doesn't make silly decisions. This is a compelling story that has been well constructed.

Eventually Kelly manages to escape but realises she cannot abandon her brother and that she must be the selfless mother he needs.

As morning breaks the stepfather John arrives back with a sniper rifle, unscrews the boards and scopes for the tiger. The end is poetic justice and dinner is belatedly served.

Horror as salvation : It is a way through for Kelly and Tom. They escape John. They escape the tiger too but, at the end of the film, it is still alive - problems persist but are ready to be faced, lived with and overcome. They are better off after than they were before.

Both of them look out from the front steps of their home at the now-calm world. Tom looks for Kelly's hand with his and she happily takes it.

The idea behind Burning Bright is simple and exciting, the concept outlandish and believable, the symbolism sharp, the emotional grip strong.


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