Burn (2019)

3 out of 5

Directed by: Mike Gan

Single location thrillers, even when their location is inspired – like Mike Gan’s Burn’s Gas Station – often have to stretch to reach the 90 minute (or more) mark of a feature length film.  And in that stretching, weird, often tension-deflating things happen.  Burn suffers from this as well, but as with his Into the Dark entry, School Spirit, Gan works within the limitations of his chosen genre to focus on elements that can either fall by the wayside or be abused for purposes of distraction and tightens them up impressively, delivering a successful – and almost great – flick.

Melinda (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) is a little… off.  We get that, via her somewhat uncomfortable no-no-to-smoking discussion with a patron of the gas station at which she works, but Gan and Harvey take great strides to not judge this offness, or to not play it up as some easily dismissed syndrome or issue.  Melinda maybe photo stalks boys, and likes to stick her finger into hot coffee, but there’s something about her social discomfit to which we can relate, allowing her role to hover inbetween humorous and sympathetic.  And perhaps too sympathetic: when Billy (Josh Hutcherson) butts into the station with a gun, sticking up both Melinda and coworker Sheila (Suki Waterhouse), the film initially takes some wicked turns that make Burn into the single location setup – locking the trio inside together – but in its final act, certain decisions are made which seem to back off from (or redirect) this wickedness.  But while we’re initially on that dark path, Burn is fantastically tense, keeping us on the edge of wondering what, exactly, is going to happen.

Eh, excepting the flash-forward that opens the film, which, similarly, seems designed to put us on Melinda’s side.  Thankfully, the immersive performances of Waterhouse and Hutcherson – and especially Coham-Hervey – are enough to make us forget this introductory misstep until the film wraps back around to it, and during the first, nervy hour of the movie, Gan never lets us forget the reality of the situation, nor completely abandons a somewhat humorous undercurrent, both tactics used excellently to juxtapose the thrills.