Like a well-choreographed action sequence, movies have a lot of moving parts. While certain aspects of a film might not fall into place, the film may do so well in other areas that it turns out alright in the end. With so many different elements at play, movies can usually balance out or even cover up their weak spots. However, Brady Hall’s Burn It All gets so tripped up by its own dialogue that it never quite finds its balance. While there’s clearly a talented team at work behind the camera and in post-production, their talents can’t quite make up for the movie’s cringe-worthy speech.
Burn It All is an action flick that packs a lot of potential, but comes to a screeching halt time and time again with stiff conversations that don’t know where to end. The film’s hero is Alex (Elizabeth Cotter), who receives word at the start of the movie that her mother has passed away from a stroke. Although she’s in the middle of an extreme personal crisis and hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, Alex returns to her hometown to make funeral arrangements and clean out her mom’s house. When she arrives, however, she discovers that an underground organ-harvesting ring has taken hold of her mother’s body. The local authorities won’t be of any help, since everyone in the town seems to be in on the sinister plot. That includes Alex’s awful ex-boyfriend, Travis (Ryan Postell), who is now a cop. As a witness to the activities of a complex criminal organization, Alex has to get out of town fast. But she’s not going anywhere without giving her mom a decent burial.
In each of Alex’s intense showdowns with members of the organ smuggling ring, the action skids to a halt as Alex points a gun to the enemy’s head and engages in painfully awkward discourse that makes the 100-minute movie feel much longer. Every character in Burn It All talks like they’re in a kid’s adventure movie, making it impossible to take anyone in this adult action-flick seriously. To its credit, each time that Burn It All reaches a moment of quiet, it’s like a totally different movie starts playing. Burn It All has a few sequences that show off some surprisingly high production value. During the scenes with no talking, the camera captures the right expressions, the right details, and the right atmosphere. For example, when Alex is alone in her mother’s house, sorting through old picture frames and boxes of junk, Burn It All tells us an entire story about Alex’s family dynamics just from all the subtle details around the set. Cotter adds the right facial expressions and emotional shifts as she goes through her mother’s things, and we get a glimpse of the rugged individualist character that Alex was supposed to be. Later, the movie also sets a haunting and nightmarish mood with the well-designed, eerily lit set for the warehouse in which the organ smuggling ring actually carries out their crimes. But unfortunately, each time the dialogue kicks back in, Burn It All once again loses its credibility.
With more nuanced development, the overall plot of Burn It All would have made rich grounds for a rape-revenge film. The criminal use of dead bodies makes for an interesting metaphor for the ways in which our male-dominated society has staked its claim on the female body. Alex is infuriated and forever changed by things that Travis did during their past relationship, and, as an adult, she is understandably suspicious of men and enraged by male privilege. However, Burn It All never fully develops itself as a rape-revenge film, awkwardly shoving in feminist themes by giving Alex one poorly written empowerment monologue after another. Some of her speeches might make for decent essays or tweets, but they don’t work as action-movie dialogue. Cotter manages to endow her character with some sincerity during moments in which Alex is triggered by certain memories and starts to get emotional, but it’s unfortunate that Burn It All can only convince us to take Alex seriously by making her tear up. Burn It All stuffs trite feminist rhetoric into every possible moment, but in the end, it adds nothing to the conversation around rape, trauma and violence against women.
At face value, a story about a woman trying to get back her mother’s body from a male-dominated organ-harvesting ring in order to give her mom a proper burial sounds like an amazing feminist movie, but Burn it All doesn’t really do a whole lot with its plot. There’s little to no character building, and even some of the action sequences are stiff and halfhearted. Burn It All does introduce an interesting new conflict in its second half as Alex goes to find her sister, Jenny (Emily Gateley), but the excitement of the new side plot is short-lived. It’s fair to give Burn It All some credit for what it could have been, but it would certainly take a lot of reworking to get there.
In select theaters and on VOD February 19th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Burn It All website
Final Score: 2 out of 5.