I’m really kinda torn when it comes to “Burn It All” (now available in select theaters and on VOD). On one hand, it’s super-sloppily made. I’m not sure if this is the result of budgetary constraints, a lack of talent on behalf of Seattle-based writer/director/editor/cinematographer/composer Brady Hall or perhaps both? (Most likely it’s a combination of meager funds and Hall being spread thin by wearing so many hats.) On the other hand, Hall should be applauded for making an unabashedly feminist flick as a man. The resulting product reads like a woke iteration of those Cynthia Rothrock PM Entertainment entries from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s only minus the martial arts pyrotechnics. Its shoddiness also recalls ‘70s grindhouse pictures, but with more of a social conscience.
Stuntwoman-turned-actress Elizabeth Cotter stars as Alex, an Army veteran who’s on the brink of committing suicide during the opening scene. Prior to doing the deed she’s interrupted by a phone call informing her that her estranged mother’s had a stroke and is at death’s door. Alex drives to her hometown, but doesn’t arrive before her Mom passes. She hopes to see her mother’s body, but it’s already been absconded by an organ thievery ring.
Alex has gone from having nothing to live for to having a very particular focus – retrieve her Mom’s corpse, dismantle the criminal organization from soup to nuts and protect her younger sister Jenny (Emily Gately), with whom she hasn’t spoken in many years. In order to achieve these ends Alex will have to ascertain whether her abusive ex-boyfriend-turned-cop Travis (Ryan Postell) is an accessory to these misdeeds and run roughshod over the chess piece-named hierarchy of this cabal – King (John Branch), Rook (King Amir Allahyar), Knight (Alexander Kiwerski) and Bishop (Greg Michaels).
Cotter is rough around the edges as an actress, but has a physical presence that sells her role. She’s like that little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead – when she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad she’s horrid. To be fair, not even Meryl Streep could sell the line, “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding.” “Burn It All” is Cotter’s first performance in a feature (she appeared as Trump Monster in the short “Trumpocalypse”). She excels in the action sequences (I just wish Hall captured them more capably) and her performance improves in the back half of the picture when she has Gately to play opposite of and greater emotional heights to hit.
The long and short of it is this – in the world of “Burn It All” every single solitary man is a piece of shit from babies (an infant’s seen wearing a onesie reading, “Make me a sandwich, bitch.”) to geezers (during the opening credits when Alex is driving home and stuck at a stoplight an old codger flashes a sign that reads, “Show your tits.”). One baddie’s dying utterance to Alex is simply, “You’re a cunt.” Hall deserves some modicum of credit for reckoning with his gender’s shortcomings while uplifting the fairer sex – I just wish he’d done it with more skill and subtlety. Then again, “Burn It All” derives whatever personality it has from its sloppiness.