When I received my review copy of Burning Bright, I thought to myself, “Oh great, not another tiger in the house movie!”. I’m kidding of course. The plot of the film, revolving around a brother and sister locked in a house during a hurricane with a ferocious Bengal tiger, is very fresh, if not entirely absurd and improbable. I mean, it’s enough that there’s a tiger in the house, but to throw in a hurricane, well, that’s just crazy talk, now, isn’t it? It’s like an elephant in a cabana in the midst of a typhoon, or a bear in a cabin in the middle of a volcanic eruption. It’s madness, I say! Madness! But, damnit, it works.
The extremely fit Briana Evigan (S. Darko/Sorority Row) stars as Kelly, a young woman with designs on heading off to college. The problem is, after her mother’s suicide, Kelly’s been the sole caretaker for her autistic little brother, Tom (Charlie Tahan). Kelly’s plan is to enroll Tom in a special sort of boarding school so that he’ll be cared for while she’s away, but her deadbeat stepfather, Johnny (Garrett Dillahunt) has spent the money earmarked for Tom’s tuition on…you guessed it, a tiger! You see, Johnny is turning the family’s Florida homestead (which he inherited seeing as how Kelly’s mom didn’t leave behind a will) into a wild life preserve, and the tiger will be the main attraction.
Kelly confronts Johnny, but he tells her the money’s spent, and that’s that. As a hurricane approaches, Johnny has his workers board up the house, and tells Tom and Kelly to get settled in for the storm. Later that night, however, Johnny lets his killer tiger inside the house, and boards up the doors, trapping Kelly and Tom inside with the hungry beast! It’s the ultimate battle between man and nature as Kelly must contend with both a ferocious feline and a howling hurricane, all the while coping with Tom’s complete and utter lack of a sense of self-preservation!! It’s going to be a rough night!
Burning Bright (which gets its title from William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger”) is a surprisingly well made little suspense/thriller, and, almost in spite of the outrageousness of its plot, it’s very entertaining stuff. I credit much of the film’s success with star, Briana Evigan, who isn’t only super easy on the eyes, she’s a very solid young actress, to boot. She imbues her character with genuine toughness and strength of will that had me thinking that this girl’s got a future in action flicks if she so chooses, and I could easily see her tussling with aliens, wasting zombies, or kicking Yakuza ass (preferably whilst wearing the same pair of ludicrously short shorts she dons in this film). I bought her character, I related to her plight (I mean, as much as anyone can relate to being trapped in a house with a tiger), and I didn’t really doubt her character’s actions or motivations. In other words, she flat out sold it, and, in turn, served as the heart and soul of this movie.
Tahan, too, does a fine job as the autistic Tom, convincingly displaying some of the disease’s more severe mannerisms and neurosis. While some of his behavior will most certainly invite shouts of “feed him to the tiger!”, if you’ve ever been around a severely autistic person, this sort of behavior is, sadly, par for the course. Kudos to Tahan for a job well done, and kudos to director, Carlos Brooks, for resisting the urge to inject anything remotely grossly sentimental or saccharine into the sibling’s relationship. Kelly loves Tom, but he annoys and aggravates the shit out of her. She even has nightmares about killing him so that she can just move on with her life. It makes their plight that much more tense, even if we never really doubt that, in the end, Kelly will do right by her brother.
I’ve also got to applaud Carlos’ decision not to use any CGI, here, and, instead, rely on green screen effects and good ol’ fashioned ingenuity. While it would have been easier (and, probably, more cost-efficient) to create a CGI tiger, Carlos and company opted to work with a trio of Bengals, each of which specialized in various tiger…well…specialties (ie; growling, jumping, climbing, etc). While there are scenes where it’s painfully obvious that the actors and tiger aren’t sharing the same space, for the most part, the gamble pays off nicely, with several white-knuckle moments generated by the same tried and true techniques and nifty practical effects work filmmakers have been employing for decades. See? Sometimes it pays to go old school.
I really enjoyed Burning Bright a heckuva lot more than I expected to, especially given the laughable premise. The thing is, once the premise is established, it really does...well...like I said...it just works, and, ultimately, a film sporting what could quite possibly have been the most ridiculous plot description I’ve ever read ended up entertaining me more than it had any right to. Here’s to pleasant surprises!