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Burning Bright is named after a verse in a poem by William Blake titled The Tyger and as this film is about a young woman and her little brother tapped inside a house with such a beast, it is quite appropriate for this surprisingly effective horror/thriller.

The film takes place in Florida and opens with the purchase of a Bengal tiger by John Gaveneau (Garret Dillahunt) from a shady individual (Meatloaf) for a safari exhibit he plans to open. We then cut to pretty Kelly (Briana Evigan) trying to find care for her 12 year old autistic brother Thomas (Charlie Tahan), so she can take advantage of a scholarship she’s been offered. But The money from her recently deceased mother’s account is gone, taken by her step-father, the predator purchasing John. An argument ensues when she returns to the house, but that is nothing compared to waking up the next morning to find the home boarded up for an approaching category 3 hurricane and… that she and Thomas have a very large feline guest sealed inside with them. It seems John needs all the cash he can to turn the family property into that little safari attraction and he’s not above taking out life insurance policies on Kelly and Thomas and locking them inside the house with his latest and very hungry acquisition to ensure their demise and an insurance check. Now Kelly must somehow fend for her life and her little brother’s against one of the world’s most dangerous predators with nowhere to run and no way out.

While the story might be a little convoluted, director Carlos Brooks gives us some really intense action sequences and some nail-biting suspense scenes as Kelly tries to outwit and escape the hungry predator in a limited space. A laundry chute scene is one of the film’s highlights. He makes really good use of the isolated setting of Christine Coyle Johnson, Julie Prendiville Roux and David Higgins’ script and successfully creates the atmosphere of being trapped, isolated and in constant danger. The plot device of there being a raging hurricane outside adds to the tension, but also provides a legitimate excuse for the windows to be boarded up well before Kelly and Thomas go to bed for the night, eliminating the implausibility of it being done without waking them. The director establishes the layout of the house quickly and thus we know where Kelly is going and yet, also where the tiger might be coming from…might. The house is small enough to be claustrophobic yet, large enough so the stalking cat can uncomfortably disappear at times. Brooks creates a true game of cat and mouse between the beast and the very resourceful Kelly, who not only has to deal with the tiger, but an uncooperative autistic brother who tends to wander off or get difficult at the worst possible moments. It’s a plot device that works very well. The use of real tigers in the production also adds to realism and thus the suspense, and the film looks very good on what was probably a modest budget.

Also helping Brooks make this work and so well, is a really strong performance by young Briana Evigan. The daughter of TV actor Greg Evigan, does a great job carrying the film on her shoulders and really sells the character of a woman who is terrified but resourceful and determined enough to fight to survive. She also comes across very genuine, early on, as a young woman who loves her brother very much yet, needs to make difficult decisions concerning him, so she can move forward in her own life. I can’t stress how this movie would not have worked as well without Miss Evigan nailing the feisty, intelligent, strong-willed and compassionate Kelly. Young New Jersey native Charlie Tahan does a really good job of portraying the mentally challenged Thomas and his realistic portrayal makes it work when, the boy ignores immediate danger to get difficult. The character is also treated with respect to the condition portrayed, so it never veers into exploitation territory or appears insensitive. Gaveneau has very little screen time, but you get the impression that the guy is a weenie and a douche, so he makes a successful villain even though he is absent through most of the flick. A good cast with a very impressive leading lady and three very effective feline actors portraying our creature in question.

Overall, this is a very suspenseful and entertaining movie and a very underrated and unappreciated horror. Sure the plot to kill Kelly and Thomas seems a bit extravagant, though it earns points for inventiveness. The film has some flaws, such as the plot element of Kelly feeding the animal raw hamburger with sleeping (?) pills mixed in that goes nowhere, but skilled direction from Carlos Brooks and a dynamite performance from our leading lady turn this into a first rate thriller that never lets up. Recommended for a fun and nail-biting 90 minutes that is a bit of a change from the usual horror! The DVD also has a nice documentary about the making of the film and we get to meet our three feline actors and see how they were cleverly composited into the scenes with Evigan, who is also interviewed.

3 very big kittys.

burning bright rating