Review: ‘Burn It All,’ starring Elizabeth Cotter, Emily Gateley, Ryan Postell, Elena Flory-Barnes and Greg Michaels

April 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Elizabeth Cotter in “Burn It All” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Burn It All”

Directed by Brady Hall

Culture Representation: Taking place the Seattle area, the dramatic film “Burn It All” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: An angry woman goes after criminals who have stolen her mother’s body to harvest organs. 

Culture Audience: “Burn It All” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching movies that are supposed to be thrillers but are actually dull and badly made.

Greg Michaels in “Burn It All” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

If someone put together a list of movies that are an unintentionally bad parody of feminism, then “Burn It All” should be on that list. “Burn it All” (sloppily written and directed by Brady Hall) is supposed to be about an angry female vigilante who goes on a rampage to punish some male criminals who harvest body organs. She has a personal reason for being this rage-fueled, one-woman assassin juggernaut: The body of her estranged mother has been stolen for organs, and she’s going to get revenge on the men who are responsible, all within a 24-hour period. And how was your day?

Unfortunately, “Burn It All” (which was filmed on location in the Seattle area) is the type of garbage film where the dumb and unrealistic dialogue is made worse by the terrible acting from most of the cast, including star Elizabeth Cotter. She has the role of the story’s protagonist named Alexandra “Alex” Nelson. Just like the performances from the actors, the movie’s action is stilted and mind-numbing. It’s so boring that it might put viewers to sleep if they have the patience to try to watch all of this awful dreck.

Alex is angry because she’s been wronged by people in her life, especially men. The movie keeps shoving this “#MeToo survivor out for revenge” gimmick in viewers’ faces so much that it becomes almost as obnoxious as Alex. Note to filmmakers: True feminism is about believing in gender equality, not being a man-hating killer.

In the beginning of “Burn it All,” viewers first see Alex at a low point in her life, when she’s in her home and feeling suicidal. The movie goes over-the-top in showing how Alex gets no respect when she reaches out for professional help, because she’s been put on hold during a call to a suicide prevention hotline. While she’s on hold, Alex gets a call from a medic telling her that Alex’s mother Margaret Nelson has had a stroke. The medic explains that Alex was called because Alex’s name was the first one listed in Margaret’s address book.

Alex replies, “I haven’t talked to her in six years.” The medic tells Alex that her mother is likely to pass away in the next six hours. Alex responds tearfully, “You can’t do this,” before hanging up. She takes some OxyContin pills from a prescription bottle with the name Jacob Kerry on it. And then, she vomits in the toilet. The movie doesn’t explain many things, including who Jacob Kerry is, why or how long Alex has had suicidal thoughts, or how long she’s been hooked on OxyContin.

But now that viewers know that Alex is a self-hating opioid user who steals or unlawfully uses someone else’s OxyContin prescription pills, the movie then shows Alex getting another phone call to tell her the news that her mother has died. During this phone call, Alex is also told that her mother’s body is at a place called Kanasket Funeral Home. Before she goes to the funeral home, Alex drives to her mother’s house (which looks like a hoarder’s dump) and finds out that the house has been broken into through the front door, because the lock is broken.

This movie is so badly written that it doesn’t explain anything about Alex’s family except eventually revealing that Alex has an estranged younger sister named Jenny (played by Emily Gateley), who appears to be in her late teens and who doesn’t live with Alex. Viewers have to assume that Alex’s mother lived alone because when Alex gets to the house, she doesn’t try to look for Jenny. It’s also implied that Alex will be the one taking care of any funeral arrangements, since she’s going to the funeral home to claim the body.

While Alex is looking around her dead mother’s house, she gets a surprise visit from the sheriff of Cumberland County. His name is Travis Kinney (played by Ryan Postell), and he happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Alex, who isn’t thrilled to see him at all. Travis tells Alex that he’s there because a neighbor reported seeing a prowler on the property.

“This is my house!” Alex shouts at Travis, as she tells him that her mother has died. She then calls Travis a “bully” and describes him as someone who “went from being a knife hit novice to a police chief.” Alex says she’s on the way to the funeral home, and she gets even more upset when Travis tells her that her mother “probably has been cremated by now.” It’s an odd thing to say in a movie about body snatchers.

And why does Travis think he knows if Margaret Nelson wanted to be buried or cremated? Shouldn’t a funeral home wait to hear from the next of kin? It’s an example of some of the poorly thought-out dialogue in this movie. The dimwitted lines and illogical scenarios get worse.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed why Alex hates Travis. She’s triggered when he tells her, “We had some good times.” She angrily reminds him that he shoved her into a wall when they were in a relationship. She also yells at Travis because he “took advantage of my little sister, who was a child!” Travis looks guilty and nervously backs off of Alex. But is this the last that viewers will see of Travis in a predictable revenge movie like this one? Of course not.

Alex goes to the funeral home and notices two men in their 20s acting suspiciously behind the building. Their names are Curtis Lee (played by Adrian Renon) and Justin (played by Tyler Scowcroft), and it looks like they’re putting a body bag (with an adult-sized corpse in it) in their truck. Curtis and Justin see that Alex has witnessed them during this theft, and so they kidnap her by strangling her and putting her in the truck. To throw in a bizarre coincidence, Alex already knows Curtis because she used to babysit him when he was a kid.

Alex is driven to a farmhouse, and she’s put in a barn with a thug named Bill (played by Lance Caver), who pulls a gun on her. Bill asks Alex, “Why are you so angry?” She replies, “You remind me of a teacher who liked to put his hand down my shirt. And much like him, I’m sure you don’t want any extra attention for your misdeeds.” Who talks like this when they have a gun to their head? No one except an unrealistic character in a bad movie.

The movie rapidly goes even further downhill from there. It should come as no surprise that the body in the bag is Alex’s mother and that the thugs are going to harvest her mother’s organs and tissues. When Alex finds out, that really sets her off to want to kill these guys, when most people would just be happy to escape from these kidnappers. But no. Alex wants to kill them all. It goes without saying in this fake feminist movie that all the people she wants to murder are men.

The thugs are so idiotic about what kinds of bodies they’re stealing that they didn’t know until Alex told them that her mother died of a stroke—not exactly the ideal corpse that can get the highest market rate for healthy human organs and tissue. The movie never explains how this body harvesting operation works. Do they have inside connections at a funeral home or a morgue? In the end, it doesn’t matter because this movie is just all about shootouts and fight scenes from an unhinged man-hating vigilante that the “Burn It All” filmmakers wrongfully want to label a feminist.

The movie never explains why Alex’s relationship with her sister and mother went sour. Although as time goes on and Alex becomes more and more insufferable, it’s easy to see why people wouldn’t want to be around her. Still, it’s quite a leap to go from someone who stopped talking to her mother for the past six years to being ready to murder people who stole her mother’s body. But since the body snatchers are men and Alex is supposed to be someone who hates men, the “Burn It All” filmmakers want people to believe that Alex’s killing spree is justifiable.

And so begins a tedious slog of chases and murders, where the body snatchers try to keep Alex captive but she finds ways to fight back after she manages to steal Bill’s gun. Don’t expect an explanation for how she suddenly has combat and stunt skills like a pro. The filmmaking in “Burn It All” is so lazy that it doesn’t throw in the usual explanation that a vigilante with these skills has either a background in the military or law enforcement. In fact, Alex’s job history is never even mentioned in the movie.

“Burn It All” also wants viewers to believe that Alex doesn’t have a phone with her to call for help. It’s never explained why she doesn’t have a phone. This plot hole could’ve easily been avoided by having one of the thugs tell Alex that they took her phone when they kidnapped her.

Alex finds a rotary phone at the farm though. It’s the only landline phone shown in the movie, but of course the rotary phone doesn’t work when Alex needs it to work. What year is this? 1971? The obsolete rotary phone is another odd and illogical choice made by the filmmakers for a movie that’s supposed to take place in the present day.

Along the way, some of the action happens in a wooded area, where Alex runs into a woman named Donna (played by Elena Flory-Barnes), who has an infant son with her in a baby carrier sling. Alex asks to use Donna’s phone. And what do you know: Donna doesn’t have a phone with her either.

It turns out that Donna works as a housekeeper for this gang. Donna is aware that there’s criminal activity going on at the farmhouse, but she has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude with her employers. Donna clearly isn’t thinking about the safety of her son either because she walks around with her baby in the woods without an emergency phone with her. Will Donna end up helping Alex in some way? Will viewers even care?

The leader of this gang is named Bishop (played by Greg Michaels), who is as generic and forgettable as can be when it comes to movie villains. The only reason why these hollow criminals are in the movie is so Alex can bounce some cringeworthy “feminist” lines off of them. This is one of those silly movies where the criminals’ problem of getting rid of an eyewitness could be solved by killing the witness immediately, but instead the thugs stand around and trade insults with the person they want to kill.

At one point in the movie, one of the body snatchers tells Alex that her mother is now “just a dead bundle of meat.” She replies, “You’re really trying to mansplain my dead mother to me right now?” How is that mansplaining? A woman could easily have said this awful “dead bundle of meat” comment. And it still wouldn’t have made the line better in this dreadful movie.

In another part of “Burn It All,” Alex gets in a showdown with Curtis and Justin and tells them: “Maybe rethink your employment situation.” It’s supposed to be a funny line, but comes off as very condescending. Who is Alex to lecture about life choices? This is coming from someone whom viewers know almost nothing about, except that she’s a drug abuser who takes someone else’s OxyContin prescription and she has mental-health issues that could be blamed on past abuse. And now, she wants to kill the men who are trying to harvest her dead mother’s organs.

What the filmmakers of “Burn It All” failed to understand is that unless you’re doing a mystery movie, viewers need to know more about a protagonist in order to root for or relate to that person in some way. The definition of creating a meaningful character is not spouting a bunch of vapid lines. And in this case, Alex’s personality is not even a worthwhile caricature.

“Burn It All” might have been improved if the movie had a campy or ironic tone to it, because the movie’s dialogue and acting are so horrendous. However, there is no self-awareness to this movie at all. It’s a really pathetic attempt to be a heavy-handed “statement” film about feminism and the #MeToo movement. The “Burn It All” title is an apt description of what should’ve happened to this abysmal screenplay so this vile movie wouldn’t have gotten made in the first place.

Vertical Entertainment released “Burn It All” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on February 19, 2021.

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