I've been trying to figure out a way to preface THE BURNING DEAD, a 2004 DIY feature from director George A. Demick, and can't quite come up with a way that I haven't done in previous posts. It's not a completely bad film, especially by the standards of most micro-budget movies, though there's nothing to really distinguish it, either. Oh well, let's take a look.
The movie stars D. Vincent Ashby as a troubled young man returning to his childhood home, hoping to recover from a deep-seated trauma stemming from a catastrophic fire that killed several people. Ashby keeps seeing the smoldering victims during the night--is he losing his mind, or is there a more nefarious explanation?
Ashby seems like a nice enough fellow--he comes across as a shaggy Nicolas Cage--but he's somewhat lacking as an actor, with a tendency to painfully overact, though the overwrought dialogue he's given doesn't help. Demick has the ingredients for a tight little horror tale--he doles out information carefully, keeping things ambiguous enough to hold our interest--but for everything that he accomplishes in his favor, he sabotages it with amateurish mistakes; his worst habit is a tendency for long stretches of exposition, relayed in static shots that often repeat information we've already been given (Ashby likes to mumble during these scenes as well). Demick's got the kernel of a good story, but too often it consists of one-note dream sequences that do little to propel the story forward, adding too many pointless moments of Ashby idly driving around, and throws in a couple of last-minute twists that, while not entirely out of left field, don't really count as satisfying storytelling choices (well, there is a late reveal of Ashby's paranormal ability that feels like a cheat). And the outcome is gratingly predictable and pat, with a "feel-good" ending.
But Demick shows he can establish a dream-like mood on a bare-bones budget, and the scenes in which the dead visit Ashby are well-put together. He's got a decent enough eye, and if he can trim the extraneous material from future scripts he might be an indie filmmaker to watch.
Close, but no cigar.