The Ones You Didn’t Burn (CFF) Burns Slowly Until the Bitter End
Title: The Ones You Didn’t Burn
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Elise Finnerty
Writer: Elise Finnerty
Runtime: 70 Minutes
Starring: Nathan Wallace, Jenna Rose Sander, Elise Finnerty
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival in 2022.
Following the death of their father, estranged siblings Mirra (Jenna Rose Sander) and Nathan (Nathan Wallace) make the trek to their old family farmhouse to process and sort through his affairs. Once there, the duo falls into old habits, clashing to the point where they spend time with the others roaming around town. The farmhands particularly seem to latch onto the siblings, but Nathan cannot shake the feeling that something is off about Alice (Elise Finnerty). He is convinced that she has something to do with his father’s death. Eventually, he will learn that some secrets are never forgotten, no matter how hard one tries to bury the past.
Slow-burn supernatural horror fizzles out weakly in The Ones You Didn’t Burn thanks to poor pacing and uneven performances.
Using the Salem Witch Trials as a springboard to discuss the treatment of women throughout history is common in many feminist horror films drawing parallels to today’s world. The Ones You Didn’t Burn attempts to add more depth to this concept but fails to establish a truly compelling narrative.
The film enters itself around the idea of retribution, particularly for crimes committed by ancestors yet reaped by their offspring. Mirra and Nathan experience their father’s death differently and are thus subjected to different horrors at the helm of the powerful forces working to destroy them at their childhood home. Much like many other horror films focusing on grief, the effects are dark and painful.
Nathan is tortured with glimpses of his former youth, back when he clearly had more to live for. He feels guilty for his life going off the rails and expresses responsibility for getting his father’s affairs in order. Mirra is seduced by the idea that her life could be so much more than a high stress career and supporting a deadbeat brother who refuses to grow up. It’s clear that their family’s destruction happened well before they reconnected due to the unfortunate circumstances. These are interesting dynamics but they never get the chance to truly coalesce.
An ominous slow burn, The Ones You Didn’t Burn is committed more to its allegorical implications than its overall story. Characters tied to the deaths of witches hundreds of years ago are arbitrarily haunted upon the death of their father. The initiation of these events feels stubbornly convenient given they grew up in the area and on the land. Why is now more important for these siblings to pay and not sooner? What are the rules or confines of this supernatural rage? Plenty of questions are raised without any attempt to even allude to answers.
Nathan Wallace nails the frenzied ravings of a tortured mad man quite well. The rest of the cast look uncomfortable raising their voices beyond a holler and their attempts to up the intensity fail to launch. Director and actor Elise Finnerty has a certain spark as Alice, but it never quite translates to her line delivery. Her screen presence is commendable though. Truthfully, the performances might be more engaging if the characters themselves felt more realized.
Seared with simmering photography and fresh faces, The Ones You Didn’t Burn cannot seem to differentiate itself from similarly themed films. Its simple story works on a surface level but gets lost in the point it is trying to make about concealing dark secrets. The performances add little to the picture, as many of the cast struggle to portray their various shades of torture throughout the film. By the end, The Ones You Didn’t Burn lightly crescendos into a familiar finale with tired themes seen before and done better. For those that appreciate a more languid horror drama, it might be a choice film to watch. Anyone looking for something that will end on a bang and not a smolder, are best advised to strike elsewhere.
Overall Score? 5/10