Burning Bright (2010) Review

Burning Bright (2010) Review

Taking its name from a poem by William Blake (“The Tiger”), Burning Bright stars Briana Evigan (Step Up 2, Sorority Row, S. Darko), Charlie Tahan (I Am Legend), Garret Dillahunt (The Last House on the Left, The Road) and rocker Meatloaf.

Evigan plays Kelly who cares for her autistic brother Tom after their mother dies. Dillahunt plays Johnny, their not-so-caring stepfather. After wiping out her college fund, he buys a tiger from Meatloaf and plans on setting up a safari park in their backyard, but when a hurricane hits, Kelly and Tom find themselves trapped in their boarded up house with the ravenous tiger.

After an incredibly long opening credits sequence which almost had me bored to tears, the movie first scenes shuffle along but does gain momentum as the characters batten down for the hurricane. But as we meet Tom, it’s very clear that the writers and director had very little insight into autism. Yes, he does display a fit when touched and protests at colours he doesn’t like as well as showing a liking for set routines such as how he likes his sandwiches made, but these are just surface traits of autism. They don’t help to build the character of someone with autism or aid us in understanding the nature of the condition.

Burning Bright (2010)

As someone who is extremely interested in how autism is portrayed in films and on television, I was keen to see how the story would play out in Burning Bright; how Tom and the tiger would interact and how he would perceive the animal. Autistics and aspies (Asperger’s Syndrome) tend to show a greater feeling and overall curiosity when it comes to animals but in Burning Bright, Tom barely registers the presence of the animal at all as a result we gain no further insight into either of these characters.

Tom’s autism therefore is represented rather negatively. Kelly sees him more as a hindrance and even contemplates leaving him behind for the burden that he is. In contrast with films like Mercury Rising (1998) and Rain Man (1988) where autism is not only portrayed but represented in a way which adds depth and understanding of the characters, Burning Bright falls into a cliché by highlighting its negative aspects rather than moments of brilliance.

As the tiger hunts around the house, he is met at every corner by Kelly with her brother in tow. We see it more through her eyes as someone who is desperate to escape, not only her house, but her life, her brother and her step father. It’s not just the kids who are trapped, but the tiger as well, yet we never see it from that point of view. What also strikes me as curious is not why Johnny would be sitting in a packed bar drinking while a hurricane is raging outside, but that a bar would be open while everything else in town is boarded up.

Overall, Burning Bright has a thin premise. It would have been to its advantage to give both Tom and the tiger more depth, as well as more screen time to Dillahunt and Matloaf. It also wouldn’t have hurt to incorporate the William Blake poem into the story, perhaps as something Kelly would have read to Tom.

Static Mass Rating: ★★★★★

Burning Bright is released on DVD from September 6th 2010 by Momentum Pictures.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 90 minutes

Briana Evigan…Kelly Taylor
Charlie Tahan…Tom Taylor
Garret Dillahunt…Johnny Gaveneau

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