[Review] Burn (AHITHFF): First-rate Performances Drive Disturbing British Horror Short

Meet the Vaubarns, husband Peter (Max Cavenham) and expectant wife Louise (Emma Kelly), a British suburban couple at the center of the U.K. horror short Burn. They quibble over watching some gruesome news on the television and joke about washing the dishes. They seem to have a happy relationship and are thrilled at the prospect of having a baby. 

Not all is well with the couple, though. It seems that Peter is sick and won’t live to see the birth of their child, so he makes videos for his son to watch when he grows older so that the boy can get to know and understand his father. 

Flash forward a few years, and widowed Louise is now the sole caretaker of young Charlie (Matti Kolirin), a wide-eyed boy who, though rather quiet, seems to be a curious child who has a close relationship with his mother. After a heated confrontation from a new neighbor, Louise prepares dinner and tells Charlie to choose a movie for them to watch. He accidentally finds one of his father’s videos that he hasn’t seen yet, and Charlie’s life changes immensely.

Burn is a wicked chiller with a nasty third act reveal that jaded fear-fare viewers might think they have guessed, but director/cowriter Judson Vaughan and cowriter Chris Barnes manage to pull off an unexpected ending. There is far more to this short than just its third act, though. The entire film is a taut, finely crafted work. Vaughan paces the story well, allowing viewers to see the close relationship between Peter and Louise before peeling back layers of stunning information. Joaquim Barreto’s cinematography is crisp and sharp, from the pretty exterior shots of the family home to the gritty, uncomfortable horror scenes. Rémi Brossier’s score provides wonderfully unsettling accompaniment.

The cast is superb. Cavenham’s early recording of video messages are strong, and Kelly is charming as a pregnant mother and then shows fine dramatic touches as a struggling single parent. Kolirin is solid in his role, giving off a dreamy, fey vibe.

Burn is a fine slice of short horror cinema that looks fantastic and tells an eerie story splendidly. It is stellar as is, but the story of the Vaubarns offers promise as being worthy of a full-length feature, too.

Burn screened at Another Hole in the Head Film Fest, which runs December 1st –15th at New People Cinema in San Francisco.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.