Burning Men Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Lightbulb Film Distribution
Directed by Jeremy Wooding
Written by Neil Spencer and Jeremy Wooding
2019, 90 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 1st March 2019
Edward Hayter as Ray
Aki Omoshaybi as Don
Elinor Crawley as Susie
Katie Collins as Gemma
Ray and Don are aspiring musicians with dreams of making it big in Memphis, Tennessee. The only trouble is, they’re stuck in the UK, constantly broke and reduced to selling the last of their precious vinyl records to raise funds for a ticket. And nobody is buying Depeche Mode anymore. So, when the chance to steal a very valuable, and notoriously cursed, Death Metal vinyl comes up, Ray seizes the moment. But it’s soon very clear that he’s stolen it off the wrong bunch of Devil worshipping, demon-summoning, Scandinavian Nazi bikers.
Also, as Ash Williams could tell him, you never then play the ‘Cursed Death Metal’ record out loud. Especially not in a land as haunted as the British countryside.
What follows is an odd, lo-fi road trip through the darker backwaters of the UK. Including Great Yarmouth. A little pretentious, a little heartfelt, this feels like a long-lost 1990s movie filtered through 1970s cod-spirituality. Ray and Don’s dreamlike, drug-fuelled journey mixes with grimmer reality and gets carried off with just the right level of hungover, hallucinatory vision. Like a leftover 1960s memory, Ray, Don and two hangers-on ride around in a beaten-up Volvo Amazon. Their convoluted path leads from the bogs of Norfolk to the council estates of Newcastle and back again to the very edge of the country. They pass picturesque ruins, take drugs under starlight and spout William Blake and Shakespeare, while burning scarecrows and ominous robed figures watch them from the roadside.
This all puts it firmly in folk horror territory shared by the likes of Kill List and The Ritual. Of course dark forces are stalking the countryside. But is Ray just imagining these devils, or is something unholy from that cursed record really hunting them down?
Despite the references to Satanism, the film’s not remotely scary, or even really that shocking - true terror doesn’t seem to be what it’s going for. The occasional raw-headed demon aside, this is a quest into Ryan’s soul, and an epic test of grit and loyalty for him and his friends as the bikers hunt them down. Death metal and Scandinavian devil worship was covered more creepily in The Ritual, though that could just be a personal preference for weird monsters. Here, the villains are a bit too camp to be unnerving. It’s a little awkward, and the dialogue is often forced, caught somewhere between Guy Ritchie and Withnail & I, via Neil Gaiman. Runtime could also be trimmed, and it uses a voiceover that is intrinsic and yet wholly maddening.
But, it definitely has its moments, and the leads eventually grew on me. UK viewers will perhaps recognise the filming style from Channel 4’s Peepshow - in fact, this film is from the director of season one (so perhaps several lovely overhead shots are seen by a crow flying above). It’s a style that can jar at first, but it successfully throws you into their addled heads. All that aside, Burning Men is something endearingly different, and still well worth a look.
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