Director: Chanya Button
Screenplay: Charlie Covell
Starring: Laura Carmichael, Chloe Pirrie, Joe Dempsie,
Running Time: 106 mins
BBFC Certificate: 15
Described in-film as “Thelma and Louise crossed with Casper the Friendly Ghost”, Chanya Button’s debut film Burn Burn Burn follows Seph (Laura Carmichael) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie) as they embark on a road trip across the UK to scatter the ashes of their recently deceased friend Dan (Jack Farthing). Pulling the strings is Dan himself in a series of pre-recorded videos, while his ashes sit in a tupperware box in the glove compartment.
True to its darkly hilarious premise, the screenplays humour plays beautifully against the rainy backdrop of the UK countryside. From Glastonbury to Wales to Scotland, the grey of the sky casts a hue over everything, the deep colours of the countryside and towns popping in comparison.
As well as the references above, this film is pop culture aware, referencing multiple films and characters over the course of the characters’ journey. As a road movie, albeit a rainy British one, it falls into an existing genre and follows the structure to letter. There’s a lot of indie comedy versions of Thelma and Louise – the scene where they’re harassed in the shop springs to mind, as well as the club scenes – but there’s others too, with references ranging from O Brother Where Art Thou to The Wicker Man. This self-awareness comes to a head at the emotional climax, where Alex finally opens up while literally strapped to a crucifix. This really sums up the humour and the point behind the film; exploring deep, horrible and moving subjects while laughing at the sheer randomness and absurdity of life. While enjoyable and cathartic, it’s not a particularly original message. Despite the emotional journey the characters take over the course of the movie, at the end I felt that not enough had really changed.
It doesn’t help that Dan, even while dying, manages to come across as “a bit of a twat”. His emotional arc follows not only his slow death by cancer but his volatile relationship with his mother. There’s an almost Hamlet-esque story here which teases deeper motivations and feelings, only to be suddenly resolved without reason or explanation. While the lead characters’ emotional arcs are left too open, Dan’s is slammed shut with the abruptness of a coffin lid.
One thing the film did brilliantly was in the depiction of Alex as a gay woman. It’s 2016 and this shouldn’t need addressing, but in the majority of films today LGBT characters still either don’t exist or are defined solely by their sexual orientation. To see a lesbian character’s sexuality taken seriously, but presented as only one almost incidental aspect of her character (as straight relationships are), is a breath of fresh air. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where an LGBT character is treated so normally, realistically, by the screenplay.
With a supporting cast of stars, including Julian Rhind-Tutt as a polyamorous hippie and Alison Steadman as a desperate hitchhiker, the two leads hold their own. In particular, Chloe Pirrie’s performance as Alex stands out, her refusal to talk about anything saying more than words ever could. Her forced cheeriness at Seph’s engagement, clearly covering horror and hysteria, is a small moment that is subtle yet multi-layered, complex and instantly relatable.
Burn Burn Burn is an enjoyable and emotional road movie, taking its audience across the rain-soaked countryside of the UK amidst dark humour and deep confessions. It’s a call to make the most of life, to change the things that are making you unhappy and confront the less flattering parts of yourself. Despite this, there’s just something forgettable about this movie. While it’s playing, it’s funny, moving and intriguing; when the credits roll, it’s unfortunately easy to leave behind.
Burn Burn Burn is released in cinemas on October 28th. You can watch the trailer below.