Burning Bright (2010)

Akin to titles such as Cujo (1983), Crawl (2019) and Bait (2012), Burning Bright is a high-concept horror about a young woman and her autistic brother who are trapped in a house with a ravenous tiger during a hurricane. After a brief set up, which establishes the fraught family dynamics (mother recently died, stepfather is struggling financially, daughter Kelly desperately wants respite from her responsibilities so she can attend college) director Carlos Brooks cuts straight to the chase. From the moment Kelly (Briana Evigan) realises there is a wild animal in the house and finds herself in a situation that threatens to eat her alive, the tension never abates.

Using low-level camera work to suggest the POV of the stalking predator, Brooks exploits the limited space of the family home to crank up the claustrophobic suspense and offer some incredibly striking imagery. Kelly not only needs to evade the tiger herself, but also keep safe her younger brother who can’t fully comprehend the danger they are in. Sneaking from room to room to try to find a way out of the boarded-up house, she has a few close encounters, including an immensely taut sequence involving a laundry chute. While the film has a very minimal plot, the screenplay by Christine Coyle Johnson and Julie Prendiville Roux still works to flesh out the character of Kelly, which further heightens the tension. Here is a young woman who already felt trapped and helpless before her encounter with a wild beast. Evigan gives us a down-to-earth character we can relate to, whose quiet desperation for change in her life suddenly becomes a fierce determination to survive and protect her family. It gradually becomes clear, with various twists, this is not just a ‘man vs nature’ narrative, there is very dark human drama playing out. Meanwhile, outside, the chaos of life continues, the hurricane rages, reinforcing the idea of closed-in helplessness.

Events mirror Kelly’s own internal struggles as she wrestles with family responsibilities she inherited after her mother’s death. While she is told by her tutor and a care worker that her brother Tom (Charlie Tahan) is not her responsibility, that her stepfather Johnny (Garret Dillahunt) can take care of him, Kelly is disbelieving and doesn’t seem to trust Johnny. She now faces two situations, both of which threaten to swallow her whole (one literally, the other figuratively). She longs to escape, to leave everything behind and just try to build a life for herself. But she cannot. She knows her brother will not be safe without her. This is perfectly encapsulated in the moment when she escapes the confines of the house and out into the raging storm where she desperately tries to start her car before deciding, in the eye of the storm, to stay and fight. The failings of modern technology highlight Kelly’s helplessness as her attempts to communicate with the outside world are constantly hindered. When you feel so hopeless and helpless, reaching out and asking for help seems impossible. While something wild and unruly that cannot be reasoned with stalks the house, it is evident the real danger was already inside with them, a figure who should have provided shelter and protection, but whose greed and desperation, has literally loosed a beast upon them that threatens to tear their already fractured family unit apart. Home has become a hunting ground...

With compelling performances, Evigan and Tahan ensure the human element doesn’t play second fiddle to the thrilling high concept premise, and Burning Bright unfolds as a frantic and gripping edge-of-the-seat home-invasion shocker.

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