Tuesday 5 February 2019

Burning Men (UK 2019: Dir Jeremy Wooding)

Wooding's last feature was the assured 2014 horror western Blood Moon, which achieved a degree of authenticity by being filmed on location in the Laredo Wild West Town near Dartford in Kent.

Locations also feature prominently in Burning Men, but despite the enigmatic filming choices there's little else to recommend this rather ponderous shaggy dog road trip effort.

Bickering musicians Ray (Ed Hayter) and Don (Aki Omoshaybi) have big time ambitions but no money to realise them. Evicted from their south London squat, they decide to sell their precious vinyl collection and fly to Memphis to kick start their career and move beyond covers of Joe Strummer songs. But even the second hand record business denies them most of the funds they need, so impetuously Ray steals a rare Black Metal acetate worth thousands of pounds from a record fair.

Hearing that they may be able to offload it at a dealers in Norwich, Ray and Don head east (taking a wrong turn into Great Yarmouth first and hooking up with music fan Susie, played by Elinor Crawley). When the Norwich dealer turns them down, they set their sights north, via a friend of Susie's, Robert, who fills them in that the person behind the record in their possession - 'The Children of Hades' by a band called Black Hymn - is notorious Satanist Stig Hanson, and anyone who plays the record in full threatens to unleash hordes of demons into the world. As they head further north, with the disc still in their possession and fuelled by drugs which make Ray unable to distinguish truth from visions, they are followed by Satanist henchmen, keen to reclaim the vinyl in connection with a grand devil's mass podcast to be held on Holy Island.

The director's choice to use a POV technique to convey the drama in Burning Men (incidentally the group name that Ray and Don give themselves) means that for most of its running time there's the inescapable Peep Show comparison, perhaps unsurprising in that Wooding directed six episodes of the series. While this keeps the film moving, at about the half way point the gimmick has played itself out and the realisation has kicked in that, rather like the characters in it, the film is going nowhere fast.

Hayter, Omoshaybi and Crawley all do the best they can - they're quite a likeable threesome - but this Kerouacian road trip very soon becomes a sort of mythical England travelogue, not helped by singer and lyricist Dan's frequent sixth form poetic musings, a sort of Holy Grail story in reverse with nods to Iain Sinclair and Robert Macfarlane. An attempt to do something different, certainly, but not a very successful one.

Burning Men will be released in UK cinemas on 1 March 2019.

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