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With a strong, intelligent, and likeable heroine played by Briana Evigan, Burning Bright (2010) is an enjoyable and exciting thriller, that could even be suitable as family entertainment. While the setup leading to a Bengal tiger becoming loose in a house during a hurricane is a little iffy, the film is generally quite well-written and delivers where it counts the most.
After the death of her mother, Kelly Taylor (Evigan) is trying to look out for the future of her autistic brother Tom (Charlie Tahan), and also complete her college education. Unfortunately her stepfather Johnny Gaveneau (Garret Dillahunt) has other ideas, using the money intended for Tom's care to buy a killer circus tiger. The wild beast is intended to be the main attraction in a "Safari Ranch", that Gaveneau intends to build at his residence.
Unable to enroll her brother in a special school, Kelly and Tom return home, just as a hurricane is closing in, and turn in for the night. The following morning, Kelly discovers that the tiger which had been in a cage outside the house, is now wandering loose inside. She also finds that with the doors and windows are boarded up for the hurricane, she is trapped inside as a rainstorm rages outside.
Thankfully, the writers make Kelly intelligent and level-headed, instead of the typical hysterical airhead often found in these types of affairs. It's like a breath of fresh air to see someone try to deal with a situation in a rational manner, without a lot of phony dramatics, and talking to themselves. Kelly is always thinking, analyzing the situation, and taking decisive action.
The true test of a film like this is how well the tiger is featured, and under the direction of Carlos Brooks (Quid Pro Quo), Burning Bright does this very well. Real Bengal tigers are used, and then skillfully and creatively integrated into the story, mostly utilizing green screen composited shots. There are many outstanding examples featuring the tiger, but at the top of the list is an attack in the laundry room, where Kelly has crawled up into the metal laundry chute, and is discovered by the tiger, who then tries to bite and claw her to pieces. Watching Evigan wedged in the chute, you may find yourself clawing onto something yourself. Another tense moment occurs when the Kelly stares into the tiger's eyes, and has to break through a wall to escape, as the tiger's jaws wind up inches away from an unperturbed Tom.
Fixated on his dead mother, Tom is in another world, and he doesn't miraculously become extra intelligent, or change into a hero. Prone to tantrums, he's not the most likeable kid, but it just makes his sister's efforts all the more impressive, as she has to do nearly everything by herself. Although her feet probably should have been cut to pieces by broken glass, and she only gets a small scratch from the tiger, Briana Evigan (Sorority Row) is certainly put to the test physically. The only thing her character Kelly doesn't do well is shoot a gun, as even at point blank range, she repeatedly misses the tiger. Aside from a bloody scene at the very end, there isn't too much that would be upsetting to younger kids. Just remember to cover their eyes at the finish.
By the end you have been through the house so many times, you almost feel you know your way around the place. The story includes some evil twists, and a few red herrings to help keep things from being too predictable, but there are some household appliances that you just know will be important. This is very much Briana Evigan's film, and she delivers big time.
The DVD has a short but informative feature called Forces Of Nature, that covers some of the technical aspects regarding how the scenes featuring the animals were done. With so many poorly done "animal attack" type films around, Burning Bright is a pleasant surprise, that while not flawless, gets a lot right, and genuinely has you pulling for those in danger, instead of just tagging along for the ride. As a genre film that is very rewatchable, Burning Bright earns 4.5 stars.