This was a treat! What would seem like (and is) a ridiculous premise results in a taut, fun little thriller with great payoff on all fronts.
It starts with one of those scenes we're all used to now that we've watched Breaking Bad, in which two guys meet in the middle of nowhere to exchange goods for cash. Except this time the goods are a great big tiger that hasn't been fed in two weeks and the guy selling it is played by Meat Loaf. He isn't in the credits, and you can insert your hungry-tiger-meat-name joke here. (It really is him, though).
Cut to young Kelly Taylor who is about to drop off her heavily-impacted autistic brother Tom at a well-meaning institution so she can go to college. She gets an understanding talk from the head doctor about how she needs to live her own life and then a less understanding talk about how her check bounced. Turns out her doofus stepfather Johnny spent all her money on a tiger as part of his doofus scheme to turn their house and grounds into some sort of doofus safari attraction. Doofus.
Kelly confronts Johnny at the house while immigrant workers are boarding it up to prep for a huge incoming hurricane. Knowing what was coming next, I saw some great details in this scene, like how the conversation is punctuated by background windows' squares of daylight suddenly going black under big pieces of plywood, or Johnny walking outside and yelling "Paco, I told you: use the big screws!"
If you haven't already read the earlier reviews of this, you've still probably guessed what's coming. Kelly wakes up later after the hurricane has become a complete rager. She quickly discovers that the tiger is loose in the house and that the front door has been sturdily boarded up along with everything else. Somehow when I read
JPX's review years ago I missed this fact, even though he says it right there. All this time I thought the gaping flaw in this movie was that the hurricane winds were portrayed as a barrier effective enough to keep a person in the house with a tiger. I'm a little embarrassed.
The execution of this is nearly perfect. With her brother in tow, Kelly has to maneuver around a house in which there is no solid protection from the tiger -- any of the available doors can be clawed and smashed through eventually. Sometimes she has time to think and plan, sometimes it's all big white teeth and tiger breath. This is a lean, exciting story with good performances from everybody.
Which brings me to Johnny, who is the real backbone behind this silly, silly idea. Because as nutball as it might be for a movie, it's ten times more bonkers as a way to murder a couple of people. How do you tell that story? There'd be way too much physical evidence to say it happened anywhere but in the house, and people would want to know why there was a tiger in there. They'd be even more curious about the screwholes in the front doorframe. As a getting-away-with-murder plot, it's doomed. But then again, so is Johnny's safari business venture, and everybody knows it, because everybody knows Johnny is an idiot. And they know this instantly.
"I wouldn't have to do any of this crap if we could get one of them dang sharknados."
When Johnny lords over his immigrant employees and worms out of spending Kelly's money, he presents perfectly as the destructive combination of evil and stupid that would actually, in real life, cook up such a scheme. (Julie's grandfather Murray lives with us now, and he watches a lot of TV, and a lot of the shows he watches are about solving real-life murders, and the people all get caught because they're unbelievably dumb. So I'm saying it could happen.)
I knew I would like this because I usually like the flicks the JPX gets all puppydog enthusiastic about. Burning Bright is a hoot.