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John’s Horror Corner: Burn (2017), Independent Short Film Review.

July 3, 2017

MY CALL:  Heartfelt horror with endearing characters whose warmth transcends the genre, Burn is the gem you’ve been looking for, made by the people who need to be making more films, and safely steering us clear of exhausting tropes.

MORE Indie Reviews:  Here at MFF we occasionally do horror short film and pre-release indie film reviews on request. Among recent solicited promotions are Order of the Ram (2013; short film), Love in the Time of Monsters (2014; feature length), Interior (2014; feature length), Smothered (2014; feature length), In the Dark (2015; feature length), Trailer Talk: The Void, TRAILER TALK: Blood Money, Short Film Buzz: Burn (2016; press release)Brother (2016; short film), the indie techno-horror Other Halves (2016; feature length), Short Film Buzz: Kickstarter Campaign for Scythe (2016; press release), Scythe (2016; short film), Shallow Waters (2017; short film) and Tethered (2017; short film).

Disclaimer: This review was solicited by the filmmakers (Slaughtered Bird Creations and Dragon Egg Media) and/or producers who provided privileged access to the film. However, my opinion remains unbiased as I was neither hired nor paid to produce this critical review, nor do I have an investment stake in the film.

Burn (@BurnShortFilm), a short psychological horror film made in Hertfordshire and north London, UK: “After several local disappearances prompt a nationwide manhunt, Burn focusses on Peter and Louise – two of many gripped by media-induced fear. When their son, Charlie, is born, Louise must find a way of raising him amid continuing public hysteria and incomprehensible personal tragedy.

Short films come in all manner of quality and style and, if you review them, you’ve come to learn this the hard way—like desperately sifting river sand in your pan, hoping against hope for that glimmering speck of gold.  So, imagine my relief when I found Burn boasting the skilled camera work and shots of a more learned eye.  The production value is high (until the end when we could feel the budget limitations) and most scenes are crisply executed.  From artistic visuals to simply filming perfunctory tasks, the emotionally powerful first five minutes of this film feel like a montage of technically pleasing filmmaking.  Kudos to director Judson Vaughan and his cinematographer!

I felt particularly edgy watching the “old gritty family tapes” opening sequence.  Between the new trailer for It (2017) and films like Sinister (2012), I’ve come to fear they are signs of bad things to come for the characters in our favorite genre.  However, I’d have liked to see this element more explored in the film.

Kindly playing a father whom his son will never know, Max Cavenham brings a candid compassion to the screen.  His performance, complemented by solid editing work, breathes humanity into this role—and a challenge it certainly is to truly relate to short film characters in such short time.  Playing his wife, Emma Kelly likewise provisions a sincere, lived-in character.  They are real people who say credible things rather than slasher fodder festooned with clichés. Their moments together feel very real, as if you might have warmly shared them with someone in your own life just yesterday.  Again, paramount filmmaking from everyone involved in this.

Not flawless, the second act (i.e., minutes 4 to 9) plods along, feeling like the product of different filmmakers and writers who had to force the plot’s hand a bit.  But, again, with such a short running time this is perhaps simply indicative of the reality that we need some exposition and staging to drive us to the climactic revelation… and that revelation, our third act, found me quite satisfied.  At first it felt quite familiar and a tad campy (which may garner negative criticism from some due to the drastic shift in tone), but then I formed a vast Cheshire smile at the “real” reveal.  Interestingly, it inspired a twisted sort of heartfelt relief…while also murderous! LOL

A patient film highlighting the skills of the entire team on and behind the screen, Burn’s story is the brainchild of co-owner, Chris Barnes (@TheBlueTook), and in partnership with Vaughan’s Dragon Egg Media label it was released under production umbrella Slaughtered Bird Films (@SlaughteredBird).  So, I’d like to say thank you to Barnes and Vaughan.  We need more thoughtful horror like this, and more considered characters like these.

If there is a take home message here, the thing I’ll remember most about this film, it actually won’t be the sort of double-twist zinger (which I quite enjoyed).  Nope.  For me it will be Charlie’s endearing father, nervously and meticulously preparing videos for his unborn son with such tender care.  In those show-stealing moments Max Cavenham was brilliant!  So much more than just “great scenes [that happen to be] in a horror movie,” the heart of those opening scenes transcends the genre and would shine in any film of any genre.  Imagine that, real filmmakers making horror.

Thanks to everyone involved and for sharing and asking me to review this.  You likely felt you were asking a favor of me, yet I feel I’m the one who owes you something.

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