Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Burning Bright

NetFlix 3/5
IMDB 5.8/10
My Rating: 7/10

A young woman and her autistic little brother are trapped in their house with a starved tiger during a hurricane.  Really, do you need more plot than that?

The moral of this story is simple - "Never buy a tiger from Meat Loaf."  And it's an excellent little flick, too... Low budget, small cast, but tightly directed and tense as hell.  Our cast consists of the sleazy scumbag Stepfather, Virtuous Daughter, and autistic Little Brother (Otherwise known as Cinderblock).  Sleazy Stepfather has the sort of "Get Rich Quick" plan common to people who think Truck Nutz are cool - He's going to turn his inherited home and acreage into a safari park, where he will bilk tourists to see tired former circus animals and the usual pit full of alligators.  To this end, he buys a "reject" circus tiger, an animal that proved deadly in the ring and has already jumped a containment wall and killed one showhorse for fun.

Now, you'd think such a beast would inspire respect, but Sleazy Stepfather sagely applies such trailer park animal handling wisdom as, "Ya gotta starve it to show it who's the boss."  Five minutes into the movie, you'll be on the side of the tiger.  Things heat up when Virtuous Daughter interferes with his plans.  She wants to go off to college, but realizes perfectly well that if she leaves her autistic younger brother in the care of Sleazy, he'll be unable to live on a diet of beer and Slim Jims.  Overshadowing all this domestic drama is the impending threat of a coastal hurricane, which the house must be completely boarded against.  And, well...  You can guess the rest.  Humans end up trapped in boarded house during hurricane WITH angry and agitated tiger that hasn't been fed for weeks.

IMDB is slathered with posts from yoofs slagging on the movie's plot.  "Stupidest story evar", blah blah, yadda yadda.  But you know what?  It's tight.  It's simple, pure, and very intense - In fact, it reminds me of a 70's thriller in how laser-focused it is on the enclosed environs.  Like that freaky Zuni fetish doll, the tiger is in the house and everything you do is a reaction to it, and there aren't five hundred stupid sub-plots cluttering up the movie and padding out the run time.  The movie does a marvelous job of pointing up just how much more fearsome a tiger is than virtually any human serial killer or madman.  You can punch Hannibal Lector.  I can look around my study now and see a dozen items that would be lethal weapons against a human, no matter how crazy he may be.  But I can't think of one damn thing in this house that would be effective against a tiger, except to piss it off.  You can't fight it, you can't outrun it, you can't even shoot it because indoor room sizes are so small that even if you DO hit the thing with your pistol, it's still going to slam into you and remove something vital before it goes down.  And perhaps most spookily, it is beautiful:

(The movie opens with William Blake's "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright" poem, which is appropriate)  Like Aussie thriller Black Water (Another killer critter flick I enjoyed), the filmmakers use a real tiger instead of a CGI one.  In fact, the only CGI used in the movie is to split-screen the tiger into a few violent up-close encounters with the actors; otherwise there are no FX, it's all done via clever editing and three very well-trained stunt tigers.  If Syfy had made this, they'd have had a 20' long CGI tiger with drooling jaws and some sort of overdone mutant appearance, but Burning Bright simply gives us a normal tiger, all stripes and pretty kitty looks as it wanders through the house and makes kindling of anything it encounters.

The challenge for our heroine is... Well, what the hell do you DO if there's a tiger in your house and you're trapped indoors?  All windows and doors are covered with screwed-in boards against the storm, so our desperate Laurie Strode has nothing but her wits and her ancestral climbing & hiding abilities to battle the beast with.  And on top of this mismatch, she's also saddled with Cinderblock, her kid brother whose autism constantly makes him a handful and a half as he wanders away, turns on stereos, has panic fits, and generally keeps her on her toes.

It's tense.  Unlike most horror films, it doesn't have a high body count nor much gore , but it delivers excellent edge-of-your-seat excitement as you find yourself thinking right along with the heroine...  What exactly WOULD you do?  I give special props to the lead actress, who delivers a Jamie Lee Curtis-level performance as the savvy daughter trying to stay alive.  In fact, the only real demerit I can give the movie is that you pretty much know how it will end from 10 minutes in, and it doesn't provide any surprises in that regard.  I still give it a big thumbs-up, however, for how well it entertains us on the way to that predictable destination.


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