Burn (2019)

There’s a spark of originality in Burn. It’s near smothered by more-than-familiar elements, though: a low-budget, single-location drama – here set entirely in and around an isolated service station – with flashes of Tarantino-esque violence and neo-noirish ambiguity.

What elevates the film is its protagonist, Melinda. A casual worker at the servo, she’s conjured by the ever-excellent Tilda Cobham-Hervey as an off-kilter creature; awkward and slightly too enthusiastic in even the most mundane interactions with customers. It’s at once surprising and inevitable that she forms an immediate, if uncomfortable, bond with would-be robber Billy (Josh Hutcherson), who sets in motion a series of increasingly extreme events.

Burn’s transition from act one to act two consistently shocks us with Melinda’s choices, casting her as the rare female anti-hero. It’s a shame, then, that the last third of the film can’t live up to its promise, with the ensuing events suffering both from an unnecessary flashforward prologue – that saps the film of most of its tension – and the unfortunate choice to deny Melinda’s agent of chaos character most of her chaotic agency. There’s undeniably a glimmer of something special smouldering at the heat of Burn, but it’s a shame that it never quite ignites.

2.5 stars

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