Chloe Walker from the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation Burn Burn Burn.
Seph (Laura Carmichael) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie) are devastated when their best friend Dan (Jack Farthing) dies from cancer, especially because he kept his illness a secret from them. They soon discover he has set them one final task – to sprinkle his ashes at four different locations around the UK: Glastonbury Abbey, a nightclub toilet, York Castle and Ben Lomond. He leaves a video for Seph and Alex to watch at each location, explaining why he has sent them there, and telling them what he couldn’t tell them whilst he was alive.
Although Burn Burn Burn is ostensibly a comedy, what sets it apart is its exploration of our darker emotions. The disappointment that begins to set in in your mid-twenties – when your life and career haven’t turned out how you imagined they would – can turn rapidly to anger and bitterness. Seph and Alex are so unhappy with the state of their jobs and relationships it has embittered them; they are meant to be best friends, but through most of the film they don’t seem to like each other very much. To see such an unvarnished vision of this mid-twenties malaise is rare in film, but Burn Burn Burn examines it in refreshingly unswerving detail.
And then there’s Dan. He is dead at the start of the film, so we only know him through the videos he records for his friends. Through the four videos, he physically deteriorates and grows angrier at the unjustness of his situation. His third video is so vitriolic it knocks you sideways for a little bit.
If I’ve made Burn Burn Burn sound overly depressing, this was not my intention! There are many joys to be found along the way. Although photographed in the muted palette of grief, the splendour of the tour around Britain that the film gives us is magnificent, showing how much beauty can be discovered so close to home. Other home-grown wonders can be found in the film’s supporting cast. There are many faces you’ll recognise, such as Sally Phillips and Julian Rhind-Tutt, but the most memorable and moving performance is from Alison Steadman, as the unlikeliest of hitchhikers.
Burn Burn Burn is a complex and admirable debut from Chanya Button. The title is derived from a Kerouac quote, although it also works here as a metaphor for the healing power of fire: Seph and Alex are pushed to the emotional brink over the course of the film, but they come through the other side stronger people and better friends. This, the unflinching honesty, and rich vein of dark humour, make Burn Burn Burn a challenging but uplifting cinematic experience.