While perusing our horror collection, I came across this friendly reminder of how visually attractive a horror film can be...and no, I'm not talking about stripper-turned-actress sex scenes 3 minutes before a brutal murder-type of attractive. Burning Bright is a nice little gem of an indie horror film that uses shots of a real tiger in action to build its tension. Such methods haven't been popular since the 70's and 80's, when it was a means to avoid practical effects and computer graphics weren't popularly implemented. Yet this old-timey style worked really well with the cinematography.
There are few things about this film I don't like. It has a sadistic sophistication in its treatment of the young girl and her love/hate relationship with her younger, mentally challenged brother. As we are all selfish little punks in our teen years, she struggles with this inner turmoil of despising her necessity to care for her younger brother in honor of her recently deceased mother. The film goes as far as depicting her in a dream sequence murdering him to stop the suffering for them both. Yikes. But it really sets the tone for her treatment of her brother from then on, as she isn't reluctantly picking him up from school, but courageously and willingly rescuing him from a vicious tiger. It is, at times, an emotional display of blood ties.
But there is one thing, in particular, about the film I don't appreciate, and sadly it is a big one. The antagonist's motives that set up the entirety of the film's action make no sense. I will get into detail about it later in the Spoilers section, but it is a rather big hole in an otherwise fresh creature feature. It is a rarity for an original "bloodthirsty animal that is otherwise normal kills people" to exist in this day and age in which there is very little new under the sun. Yet, this film takes the traditional plot and molds it into a claustrophobic yet beautifully shot thriller.
The film's synopsis pre-viewing is intriguing to say the least. A girl and her younger mentally challenged brother fight off a man-eating tiger in their home during a hurricane. Sounds interesting, but what series of events leads our cast into this predicament? Is the tiger escaped from the zoo during the hurricane, breaks into the home, and the two siblings have to try and find their way out of a boarded home through the passage the tiger entered? Not quite. Instead we have their evil stepfather trying to kill them via a tiger he just purchased for his safari...What?
The point, which is assumed, is that he plans to make it look like an accident, that the tiger broke into the home during the hurricane and consumed the two children. But, how does this get him off scot-free? I would imagine the regulations in 48 of 50 states would be rather strict and harsh on the owning of a dangerous exotic animal. The stepfather's dealings seem to be in the gray area of legal and illegal throughout, so it seems unlikely he would have all the paperwork in order to throw the situation under "work hazard" and watch the problem fade away into the judicial system. It is hard to picture a scenario in which he explains what happened to the authorities (which would seem like the point of using the tiger...to formulate some kind of accident) and he isn't subject to jail time.
It is these motives that set up our fantastic action shots throughout the film. I was expecting an excellent payoff of why throughout, so I was somewhat disappointed during the cliche antagonist monologue at the end that we get no decent reason. Simply, he killed their mother and made it look like an accident, the tiger was supposed to kill them and make it look like an accident, and no one else is the wiser. Well, except for the audience...What'd you do, have a trained elephant trample the mother and chalk it up to workman's comp?
Regardless, the film as a whole is fun watch. It has plenty of tense moments, the atmosphere is great, and the cinematography is beautiful. It won't fall high on the horror meter, but where it sits it sits pretty.