In the Fire (2023)

by - October 13th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Amber Heard Demonic Child Thriller In the Fire Possessed with Unoriginality

It’s a shame In the Fire is as instantly forgettable as it is, because its star Amber Heard deserves better. While the actor’s name has been in the news primarily for reasons I don’t have the energy or desire to get into, that she can be a dynamic talent in the right role has been seemingly forgotten in all of the legal and social media chaos. But her performances in films as varied as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Alpha Dog, Pineapple Express, Magic Mike XXL, and Her Smell speak for themselves, and Heard’s work here as a late-19th-century doctor researching the supposed possession of a young child is excellent.

In the Fire (2023) | PHOTO: Saban Films

Sadly, director and co-writer Conor Allyn’s follow-up to his quite good 2020 Mexican-American border drama No Man’s Land is a middle-of-the-road bore. While the production values are high and the performances are solid, there’s not a lot more to talk about. It feels like some straight-to-video title from the late 1990s or early 2000s that would line the shelves of your neighborhood video store. The film is destined to be ignored as it bounces from one streaming service to another in the near future, and as rudimentary and familiar as this subtle scare-fest may be, part of me can’t help but think that’s frustratingly too bad.

Farmer Nicolas Marquez (Eduardo Noriega) has brought doctor Grace Burnham (Heard) to his secluded town to treat his son Martin (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini) for a mysterious illness. Spurred on by Antonio (Luca Calvani), their angrily righteous priest, residents blame the boy for all types of maladies that have been assaulting their community for years, some even claiming he’s been possessed by the Devil since birth.

Grace is brought in to find a scientific basis for why Martin is acting the way he is as well as hopefully dissuade the townsfolk from doing anything to him that they’d regret. She gets some moral and practical aid from another holy advisor, the down-to-earth Gavira (Yari Gugliucci), and also works to get a better understanding of the strange ailments the boy has been dealing with and how they correspond with what’s been happening in the village itself.

It’s basic stuff, mixing a bit of The Exorcist, The Bad Seed, The Innocents, Children of the Corn, and — I almost hate to say it — Sleepy Hollow into a hopefully suspenseful stew of potentially demonic mayhem. The problem is that little of this is particularly scary, and even less is surprising in any meaningful way. It’s never in doubt that something otherworldly is going on, and there are moments where Zaini’s primarily stone-faced performance curves into a sinister smirk that’s all too reminiscent of a certain child born to do the Devil’s work in The Omen.

The film looks great: the production design, set decoration, and costumes are all suitably authentic. At not even 90 minutes, it also moves like lightning; Allyn doesn’t waste any time as he moves the story from one sequence to the next. The cinematography is a little too glossy for my taste, but not distractingly so. Special recognition should go to editor Marco Perez — his deft cutting of the material went a long way to help generate at least a modicum of tension.

In the Fire (2023) | PHOTO: Saban Films

Look, there’s nothing egregiously wrong with In the Fire. Allyn is a solid craftsman, and there are no major technical missteps. It’s mainly that the plot he and co-writers Pascal Borno and Silvio Muraglia have created feels so belligerently unoriginal. Not to be mean, but if someone told me this film was Exhibit A in the WGA’s and SAG/AFTRA’s battle against scenarios generated by artificial intelligence, there’s a part of me that would be tempted to believe them.

That’s a pity, because Heard, Noriega, and the majority of the ensemble are excellent. They’re giving it their all, never phoning anything in, even as events play out to their foregone conclusion. For Heard, it’s a reminder of her skill, only one precious few will see unfortunately, and that truly is a shame.

Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)

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