Eye For Film >> Movies >> Burn It All (2021) Film Review
Burn It All
Reviewed by: Jane Fae
Burn It All is brutal, in every sense of the word. As in, action thrillers tend to come in two varieties. The first, the mainstream, much beloved of Hollywood, showcases violence as something neat, balletic, comic, even (just think Clint Eastwood’s paean to the .44 Magnum, during which he never actually says “do you feel lucky, punk?”). Think James Bond. Mission: Impossible.
Or if you like female assassins, think Salt. Think Nikita. Think Lucy. Or perhaps Red Sparrow. The Bride from Kill Bill. All very slick and, if you ever give it a moment’s thought, not at all how violence actually operates.
Then there are those films that, if not 100% real, certainly have the sense, the sensibility of opening a window onto a world you never ever want to be part of. Bullets do not drill little holes leaving behind neat circular outlines behind them. When hit with a heavy object, victims do not just fall down and then get up again: their skulls explode in a chaos of bone and blood. Limbs snap. Eyes are gouged. Individuals gasp their last.
You get the picture?
So. If you were tuning in to Burn It All in hope of another glossy woman-turns-the-tables revenge movie, forget it. Every aspect of this film is dark and potentially upsetting. To women who have suffered some of what our hero, Alex (Elizabeth Cotter) has undergone, themes such as abuse, sexual violence and…the grand opener…a suicide attempt are going to be massive triggers throughout. I don’t often stick TW’s on film reviews, but in this case, I will make an exception. Watch with care.
For men, this movie seems triggering in very different fashion. Reading the user reviews on IMDB I am struck by just how much this film divides audiences, with many commenters - most, I suspect, women – sticking up for it as shining a spotlight into some very dark corners. Specifically, the everyday female experience, in which women get side-lined, talked over and regularly beaten down with violence or the threat of same. These folks are rating the movie highly – 8, 9 or 10 stars.
On the other side, there are a lot of folks, likely men, complaining about “tired old feminist rhetoric”: how we’ve seen this before; and how boring is wokeness. Etc. They, also predictably, are giving it 1 or 2 stars.
The problem, though, with polarising films is that the question of whether the film is any good or not can get lost in the rhetoric. Burn It All is the ordinary everyday story of a woman returning to her home town to bury her mother. Only she finds a bunch of body snatchers got there first and plan to use mum for body parts. Cue anger, rage and a rapidly rising body count that would put John Wick to shame.
Because first Alex must rescue her mum’s body and then, because we “know where your relatives live”, must save sister Jenny (Emily Gately) from a seemingly neverending queue of would-be assassins. Observations?
Alex is angry. No, really angry, much to the puzzlement of every man she encounters. There is a point to this, although in the end, it did get a little repetitive. Because almost every encounter with a soon-to-be-dead male was preceded by a feminism 101 lecture on male violence. Look: I get it. I sympathise, and I sympathise, too, with the fans who said you so rarely hear that perspective in film. But I think it fair to criticise on grounds that we never really progress beyond the same lecture and a rapidly rising body count.
Though I won’t criticise too much. After all, a great many male-centred films are predicated on far less real grievance – a passing over for promotion, or A N Other past sleight – so Alex should be allowed space to have her say.
I’d also raise a question mark over the violence. Because this film is played for real it is quite hard to understand why Alex keeps coming out on top. She has no special (super-)powers: is a brawler rather than a ninja; and time and time again gets herself into a corner where, within the parameters of this film, she really should not be able to extract herself.
Perhaps it helps that her bio credits her as stunt woman first, actor second. Apparently, she was a member of the United Stuntmen's Association as a utility stunt performer. Whatever that is. At any rate, that may be why there are times where the acting is…well, it’s not exactly Gielgud!
Putting that together, this is not exactly a B-movie: maybe a step above. Nothing wrong with that, if you greet it on its own terms. It comes with a message about male violence that some will find uncomfortable. But perhaps that discomfort is long overdue.Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2021