Trash Fire 2016 poster

Trash Fire Film Review

Why I took it off the list:

As the autumn chill begins to creep in, I thought it was time to turn back to horror movies as the Halloween season draws nearer.

And what better place to start with than a film’d been meaning to watch for a while by writer/director Richard Bates Jr., whose Suburban Gothic (2014) I’d just revisited. So, let’s dig in!

Review of Trash Fire (2016)

Trash Fire is a bit of a mash-up of tropes of classic horror movies. Most obviously, there’s the religious fanaticism and repression of Carrie, and Southern Gothic elements lifted straight out of the likes of Psycho and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Like the latter films, Trash Fire takes place mostly in a spooky old mansion, leaden with dark secrets. An unhinged invalid is sequestered away upstairs. There’s a strange figure peeping through holes in the walls. The characters are still haunted by a mysterious and deadly fire years earlier,

While the film mostly works and is engaging when focused on its central setting, the pacing is a bit weird. It takes a full 30 minutes for lead Owen (Adrian Grenier) and his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur) to get to his grandmother’s decaying home.

Then, it takes another 30 minutes to properly introduce his mysterious recluse of a sister. But then not 10 minutes later, a character outlines their master plan – in a ridiculous, and unnecessary villain monologue – and the action speeds up significantly.

It feels like things could have been much tighter if they’d reduced the bitter bickering of the leads down to a couple of scenes in the car on their journey to Grandma’s. Then, they could have spent more time developing the not-inconsiderable later tension brewing inside the home.

The Cast Entertain as Terrible Characters

Another problem in Trash Fire is that the main characters are largely incredibly unpleasant to each other, and therefore, mostly unlikable. Saying that, though, both Grenier and Trimbur become more sympathetic as the film goes on, and they get something of satisfying redemption arcs.

At least the great Fionnula Flanagan gets to have fun with her evil granny role. Way less cuddly than her turn in The Others (2001), her grandmother here is bitter, twisted, and devious (to put it lightly). Although some of her machinations and outright hostility are over-the-top, she clearly relishes playing such a despicable character and has some great scenes, particularly a confrontation with Isabel.

Plus, Annyalynne McCord, star of Bates’ debut feature Excision (2012), is effective in the role of a crazy recluse named Pearl years before director Ti West would introduce a similar figure in X (2020) and its prequel. Pearl here starts out as a conventionally eerie presence haunting the fringes of the house, but she gradually reveals more depth. That’s largely due to McCord’s ability to convey surprising pathos, even beneath crazy amounts of burn makeup and half obscured in the dark.

Final Score: 6/10

Trash Fire (2016): Worth Watching?

It depends. Once the film settles into its Southern Gothic mansion setting and introduces its standout characters, Trash Fire is reasonably entertaining.

The problem is that it takes so long to do this, and the bitter characters can be off-putting. Despite this, it does have some fun sequences and good acting.

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