In the Fire reinforces my theory that a boring movie is less enjoyable to sit through than a bad movie. It has fine production values and competent performances. What it lacks is a single interesting character or a story that earns a shred of our attention. Even at 87 minutes, this film feels endless.
The time period is the 1890s. Grace Burnham (Amber Heard) is a New York doctor who journeys to a remote plantation to study and possibly cure a disturbed young boy named Martin Marquez (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini). Locals, including priest Father Antonio (Luca Calvani), believe the kid is possessed by the devil and therefore the cause of every misfortune the village has endured. His father Nicolas (Eduardo Noriega) isn’t sure what to make of the situation. Grace believes the boy’s issues can be better explained by science than by religion, a standpoint that ignites tensions among the superstitious citizens.
If that plot sounds familiar, it’s because you saw The Wonder, the excellent Florence Pugh drama with an almost identical premise. That movie has ideas at its core. It smartly observes the differences between people who believe there’s a logical explanation for everything and those who want to attribute difficult-to-explain phenomena to a higher power. In contrast, In the Fire has nothing to say on the subject, instead offering characters who randomly bicker with each other without making any points the viewer might enjoy contemplating.
Given that the film establishes early on that Martin has the power to move objects or people with his mind, any mystery that might be generated is tossed right out the window. We should be guessing up until the very end what his status is. By making that clear during the first act, the potential for drama evaporates. The story chugs to a predictable conclusion that you can easily see coming from a mile away. An attempt to inject sex appeal falls similarly flat. Grace and Nicolas spontaneously get it on, but their attraction is abruptly dropped.
The biggest problem with In the Fire is that it’s deadly dull. Director Conor Allyn gives the movie a funereal pace. Obvious developments take forever to occur, and multiple scenes drag on long after we’ve gotten the point. One-dimensional characters exacerbate the thin nature of the plot. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more somnambulant film about a child who is possibly possessed by the devil. This isn’t entertainment, it’s an endurance test.
out of four
In the Fire is rated R for some violent content and brief sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.