Burn It All is a bona fide bit of exploitation trash, legitimately awful but enthralling in its sheer ineptitude.
Contrary to popular belief, exploitation films are alive and well, seen in everything from last summer’s Russell Crowe road-rage thriller Unhinged to the recent right-wing school shooting atrocity Run Hide Fight. What sets these films apart from their ‘70s counterparts is that they hide behind a sheen of respectability, born out of studio funding, recognizable faces, and slick, professional filmmaking. Even when one of these movies attempts to capture the look and feel of a true exploitation-era relic, the result is usually calculated, manipulated, a la the works of Rob Zombie. One would have to go the DTV-route to find anything even remotely similar, and even then they feel too safe, neutered of their perversions. All of which makes Brady Hall’s Burn It All such a remarkable achievement. This is the purest 21st century exploitation flick in ages, one that truly evokes the scuzzy remnants of ‘70s trash simply thanks to both its single-minded intent and inept filmmaking. The dialogue is embarrassing. The acting is community theater-level. The sound design is a particular joke, with terrible dubbing, dropped lines, missing sound effects, and ear-splitting music levels. There are times where the film is out of focus, and others where the actor’s heads or bodies are awkwardly chopped off due to poor framing. The fight choreography…leaves something to be desired. No attempt is made to hide the cheap digital photography, which looks as if it was shot with an iPhone 4.
This all results in a final product whose very existence feels like a joke, being released by a distributor currently nominated for multiple Golden Globes for its Sia-directed musical. It should be made clear, then, that none of this seems intentional on the part of writer/director/cinematographer Hall, who amazingly has multiple features under his belt: this is simply a badly made film, even as its tale of female empowerment feels like a modern-day riff on the exploitation of yesteryear. Elizabeth Cotter stars as Alex, an emotionally and physically damaged young woman who goes to the outskirts of Seattle to retrieve her deceased mother’s body, but who instead uncovers an illegal organ trafficking scheme. Driven to the edge by abusive men who won’t take her seriously, she fights back, destroying every penis-equipped person in her path. Not that these men don’t have it coming. As Alex herself states, “Why does every dude tell me they’re a nice guy only after they put a gun in my face?” She isn’t wrong. Hall paints every male character on screen as the scum of the earth, from the old man in traffic who holds up a sign that reads, “Show your tits” to the baby boy wearing a onesie that reads, “Make me a sandwich, bitch.” Choice lines of dialogue from Alex include, “You really gonna mansplain my dead mother to me right now?” and “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding.” One man’s dying words to Alex are simply, “You’re a cunt.” Remarkably, aside from a few stray moments, none of this seems the least bit knowing, which makes it a rather glorious viewing experience. Based solely on this film, Hall seems like the type of guy who took a feminist theory course in college and bragged to everyone about how he understood women on a different level. It takes some cojones for a man to even attempt to tell this particular story, for starters, or to force his female lead to unironically describe a gun as a “totem of security.” If it wasn’t already clear, in no reality is Burn It All a recommended watch, but please trust that it’s an undeniably compelling viewing experience built on a profound badness that also, inadvertently, makes it something of a success. Don’t make me have to mansplain it.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | February 2021.