Burn, written and directed by Mike Gan, is a claustrophobic new single-location thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Getting crazier and crazier as it goes on, Burn is able to overcome its narrative shortcomings because of its talented cast and breakneck pacing.
The film follows a lonely gas station attendant who, when her place of work is being robbed at gunpoint, sees a way out of her mundane life. What results is a unique and unusual spin on the Bonnie and Clyde tale that is sometimes hard-to-watch, often uncomfortable, and always entertaining. Though it may not be the most unpredictable thriller, Gan knows how to craft suspense and make his story seem more interesting.
Gan is able to build a unique tone in the movie which helps make it more entertaining too. Although the film is a thriller, and there is a resultant high amount of tension, there’s also a darkly comedic edge to the movie that feels refreshing. The characters, particularly the one played by Josh Hutcherson, keep spitting out witty lines in a way that will make you crack a smile and even laugh a time or two in between the times they are doing things that are thoroughly disturbing.
That said, filmmakers do need to stop with the gimmick of starting the film midway into the conflict only to rewind to the beginning of the story. At this point, it feels like a cop out. If a story isn’t compelling enough to have a natural hook, why tell it in the first place? And if it is compelling enough (as it is with this movie), why force it?
The character development is also somewhat lackluster. It’s obvious that Gan is trying to comment on the moral ambiguity of the characters’ actions, but this does not come across in a way that is particularly compelling. Although the idea of the characters flipping back and forth between good and evil is intriguing if done properly, this film sadly makes it exhausting by the end.
The best part of this movie, though, is the acting. Hutcherson (who seemed like he was going to be the next big star for a while and then hasn’t done a whole lot since the Hunger Games series ended) shows that he has the ability to carry a film quite well. His co-stars Tilda Cobham-Harvey and Suki Waterhouse are both good, but Hutcherson always steals the show with an enjoyably zany and fun performance. This movie will make you want to see more of him in this type of villainous role.
On a technical level, the film is mostly solid, taking advantage of its confined setting. Since the movie is set entirely in and around the gas station, the geography of the film ends up being very important. Ultimately, the cinematography by Jon Keng does an excellent job of using this tight setting to create suspense and an overall feeling of unease.
Although Burn does have its fair share of issues, a fun performance from Josh Hutcherson and a solid amount of suspense keep the movie afloat. As the feature debut of Gan, this shows he is a talent to watch in the future.
Burn hits theaters and VOD on August 23.