DIRECTED BY: Nathan Wrann
FEATURING: Micheal Wrann, Kristina Powis
PLOT: An amnesiac wakes up from a coma; an internal trauma stemming from a
brutal, repressed tragedy is gradually revealed in scenes that mix flashbacks with uncertain reality.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a noble low-budget attempt, but it’s not distinctive enough, and not ready for big-time weirdness.
COMMENTS: When I glanced at the back of the Burning Inside DVD case and saw that the running time was 120 minutes, I got an anxious feeling; I was afraid that I might end up trapped iside the work of a young director in love with his own vision, who didn’t know when to turn the camera off. After watching the first scene—five minutes of a nurse shaving a comatose man—my suspicions were confirmed. The man (known only as John Doe) awakens from his coma with a gasp; 15 minutes later, he hasn’t spoken and we haven’t learned anything at all about him. 30 minutes in, all that’s happened is that he’s drawn a mysterious picture on the wall. By that time, most people will have given up on the movie, which is a bit of a shame because by the halfway point the pace picks up, the weirdness commences, and some interesting things start to happen: chief among them is a montage mixing a slaughter and a love scene, set to “Ave Maria” (the sudden introduction of music is jarring considering the near silence of the surrounding soundtrack). Unfortunately, Burning Inside falls prey to a style-over-story fallacy that’s too common in the avant-garde: the filmmakers believe the atmosphere they’re creating is so intoxicating that viewers will want down time to breathe it in without the constant distraction of plot developments. It ain’t so. Visually, Burning Inside takes its cue from the grainy, high-contrast monochrome aesthetic of great weird films like Begotten and Pi (not to mention Eraserhead, from which Wrann also took the idea of using a far off industrial hum as sonic wallpaper). Weird movie fans who’ve seen these black and white classics will feel they’re in a familiar landscape. There are some very pretty shots along the way, including some bleak landscapes where the contrast is turned up so high the grass glows like snow, and some interesting uses of double images and dissolves (there’s a very effective dissolved where the protagonist appears to be going cross-eyed, until the image resolves and we see that another character has been sharing an eyeball with him). Some sequences use a washed out color for contrast, as if we were looking at someone’s old Super-8 home films. The attractiveness of the b&w cinematography is undermined at times by the grain added to the film, which looks blocky and pixelated and very obviously digital. The performances are competently amateur for the most part, but star Michael Wrann, usually shown in a grimy wife-beater and two day growth of beard, has an effective presence: he displays the necessary mix of torment and menace, and remains enough of a cipher that we’re able to project imaginary tragedies on him. He’s asked to over-emote at times, but he’s more effective when he stands unspeaking, grim and mysterious. Enough plot is eventually revealed to piece together a backstory, although there’s nothing especially shocking or surprising about the tale, and the viewer will still have to sort out what’s flashback and what’s fantasy.
Burning Inside has about 45 minutes of story to tell, but tries to cram that plot into 120 minutes of film. It could have been an effective mood piece at 80 minutes, and still have been a very leisurely tale with plenty of time for the viewer to soak up the atmosphere. This is a case where studio interference would have been a good thing: would the director really go to the mat for the extra three minutes of shaving footage?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…Wrann’s style of filmmaking reminds me a lot of David Lynch’s, not for its weirdness, but in the way it stretches scenes and moments out to almost unbearable length – and yet I could not stop watching… definitely a film worth seeking out, just don’t expect something you can watch with your friends and a six pack as part of a Friday night double feature; it isn’t a low budget slasher/monster flick, but a surreal trip through one man’s bent mind.”–Greg Lamberson, Fear Zone
DISCLOSURE: Screener copy provided for review by Channel Midnight.