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On Fire Review

October 9, 2023 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
On Fire Image Credit: Cineverse
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On Fire Review  

On Fire Review

Peter Facinelli– Dave Laughlin
Fiona Dourif– Sarah Laughlin
Asher Angel– Clay Laughlin
Lance Henriksen– George Laughlin
Ashlei Foushee– Kayla
Glenn Morshower– Marv
Michael Vincent Berry– Jacob
Laurie Coker– Mrs. Elkin

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Nick Lyon and Peter Facinelli
Screenplay by Nick Lyon and Ron Peer

Distributed by Cineverse

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, disturbing images, and some strong language
Runtime– 80 minutes

On Fire is exclusively in theaters starting September 29th, 2023

Image Credit: Cineverse

On Fire, directed by Nick Lyon and Peter Facinelli, is part family drama and part natural disaster action movie. Clocking in at a tight 80 minutes long, On Fire moves at a breakneck pace and is both exciting and heartbreaking (there’s also one scene that might induce nightmares because of how truly nasty it is). While it’s probably right to say that the plot isn’t necessarily new (natural disaster movies tend to feature the same sort of plot), On Fire is well-done, with plenty of great performances from a top notch cast. The special effects are pretty good, too.

On Fire stars Peter Facinelli as Dave Laughlin, a devoted father, husband, and family man just trying to get through life. Dave is very proud of his son Clay (Asher Angel), a track standout at his high school, and he loves his very pregnant wife Sarah (Fiona Dourif) despite all of the arguing they do (they have financial issues so things get testy every so often). Dave is also devoted to his father George (Lance Henriksen), who is sick and ornery (George’s wife died, he’s lonely, and he feels as though he doesn’t have anything to live for). Dealing with George is also a point of contention between Dave and his wife Sarah; it’s tough but they somehow manage to get through it all. One day, as they’re all dealing with their usual life stuff, the Laughlin family finds out that the ongoing forest fire “just down the road” from them is quickly growing and could possibly show up and consume their family dwelling very soon (the Laughlins basically live out in the woods. It’s not some “off the grid” type situation, though. It’s like a quasi-neighborhood out in the woods). They don’t want to leave their home, nor do they want to panic, but they are concerned about what could happen. What if they have to evacuate? What if they lose their home (the house isn’t insured)? What the heck are they going to do?

So Dave decides to do all he can to prepare his family for the potential disaster approaching their home. Dave buys some supplies from the local hardware store (the great Glenn Morshower shows up here as the store owner), Clay wets down the outside of the house while also raking up the leaves and brush and whatnot, and Sarah and George try to pack up the things that they know they’ll want to keep in the event the fire actually does arrive and consumes everything. It’s at this point that the authorities tell everyone in the area that they will have to evacuate, that the fire is growing and they can’t stop it. Dave has issues getting back to his wife and son and father as the road back home suddenly becomes a hazard. Sarah and Clay and George decide to leave on their own (Dave is in contact with them via cellphone, but the cell towers aren’t super reliable because the fire is about to destroy them, too). Will Dave find his family and be able to get them to safety? Will Sarah and the others survive the drive out of the woods?

I don’t want to say any more about what happens because it is worth it to experience the ups and downs of the plot somewhat fresh. I mean, you probably won’t be surprised by what happens as the movie progresses. In fact, you’ll probably be able to guess what happens before it happens in the movie. But it’s still worth it to experience it “fresh” anyway. There are some moments that will stick with you because of just how goddamn sad they are. And that “nasty” moment I mentioned earlier involves a background character being consumed by the fire. It’s a quick moment that seemingly comes out of nowhere and is incredibly mean-spirited but it’s very much something that could happen in the middle of a massive forest fire. Nature really doesn’t give a crap who you are or what you are; if you’re in the way nature is going to take you the hell out.

On Fire also features a nifty subplot involving Kayla (Ashlei Foushee), a new 911 operator who does all that she can to help people who call 911 for help. We see Kayla go through a bevy of emotions as she realizes that she might not be able to help everyone that calls into the 911 center (the fire keeps growing and it becomes harder and harder for emergency crews to go into the fire area to rescue stranded people).

On Fire rarely lets up, and when it does there’s still a major sense of dread in the air because you just know that the fire is growing and there’s nowhere to hide in the woods. The only way the Laughlin family is going to survive is if they can actually get out of the woods. Will they be able to do that, though? Just how many obstacles can nature throw in the family’s way and how many of those obstacles can the family overcome? Co-director Nick Lyon knows how to both keep things moving when they need to move and how to maintain a real sense of dread when things briefly slow down. Once the fire arrives it’s always something that the Laughlin family will have to deal with. And the movie’s 80 minute runtime is perfect. On Fire doesn’t waste time, it uses its time wisely, and it knows exactly what it needs to do in order to get to where it wants to go.

The movie’s fire disaster special effects appear to be a mix of practical and CGI and for the most part they look pretty good. There are a few small moments where the effects are kind of iffy, but they pass by quickly and they don’t take you out of the movie. I’m amazed that co-director Lyon and company were able to create as many big deal special effects sequences on what can best be described as a modest budget. On Fire looks like it cost ten times what they likely spent on it. That’s always great to see with this type of movie.

I’m not sure how people will react to the movie’s obvious message about climate change and what the resulting forest fires will do to people and the world. Will there be people “deeply offended” by how the movie has a message about being proper stewards of the Earth and nature? Probably. I’m sure there’s a sizeable chunk of the movie watching audience that will want to trash On Fire because of that “propaganda” message. You should ignore those people and their relentless negativity, though. If people do give you crap for liking On Fire’s message, you should go ahead and ask them why they’re pro-forest fire. Let them think about that for a few minutes. Maybe they’ll figure out how dumb they are (they probably won’t but you can always hope).

The main cast of On Fire is phenomenal. Peter Facinelli does a great job as Dave Laughlin. Dave is just a guy that wants to get through life and protect his family. He doesn’t have all of the answers and isn’t a superhero, but he is smart and resourceful when he has to be. You root for him from the beginning and you hope that he and his family will get through the coming disaster okay. They probably won’t, they’re probably going to experience some sort of tragedy or trauma, but you know that Dave will do whatever he can to survive. I’m not entirely sure how much of the movie Facinelli actually directed. As I’ve read online, Facinelli took over for a period of time during production because Nick Lyon tested positive for Covid-19. Whatever Facinelli directed matches what Lyon directed as there are no moments in the movie where things feel awkward or different. So that’s cool.

Fiona Dourif is fantastic as Sarah Laughlin. Sarah is a loving wife and mother who, just like her husband Dave, wants to get through life. She has a job and is very pregnant as the movie begins and is essentially overwhelmed by everything. I mean, she’s handling everything as best as she can, but you can tell that life’s events are getting to her more than they have in the past (her job, the big bills that they don’t have enough money to pay, all of the stuff with her father-in-law George). Sarah will get through it, though, because that’s what she does (it’s all she really can do. She isn’t going to give up). Dourif also appears to be quite the cookie connoisseur, which is always nice to see (cookies rule).

Asher Angel does a fine job as Clay Laughlin, the teen son of Dave and Sarah. I was worried early on that Clay was going to be annoying, that he was going to end up being one of those teen characters that’s constantly whining about how everything is unfair and old people just don’t understand what he’s going through, etc. That didn’t happen, though. There are a few whiny moments, yes, but those moments don’t overwhelm Clay or the movie. I was actually surprised at how useful Clay ended up being in the movie. That’s always great to see.

Lance Henriksen, as expected, is superb as George. George has clearly been through a lot in his life, both before his wife died and now after. George is deep in grief and says several times that he just wants his life to be over, that he’s done, that he’s ready to go be with his wife in the hereafter (George would also like to watch Wheel of Fortune in peace, and who could blame him for that?). No one around him wants to believe him, though. Everyone thinks he’s just being stubborn or that he’s maybe looking for attention. Sarah is upset with him because, as she tells Dave, George keeps “disrespecting her” in front of Clay. A lesser actor than Henriksen would make George just a relentless asshole. Henriksen, though, makes George somehow likable even with all of his rough edges and “tired with life” issues. Henriksen makes sure that you understand what sort of pain George is experiencing, both physically and mentally. You can’t help but root for him, even if you’re not entirely sure what you should be rooting for with him (do you want him to keep living despite his pain? Do you want him to get what he wants, to die so he can go be with his wife? What do you want to see George do?). You’ll love Henriksen’s George.

On Fire is a well-done, exciting, and harrowing family drama and natural disaster action movie. You should see it as soon as you can. Even if you’re not necessarily into natural disaster movies, On Fire has Lance Henriksen in it. That fact alone should make it a must see. And it does. On Fire is a great little movie and you should make an effort to see it.

See On Fire. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 2 onscreen (potentially untold hundreds, maybe thousands off-screen. The fire is pretty damn big).

Explosions: Several.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: News reports about forest fires, a massive forest fire that is part CGI, high school track hooey, a 911 call center, family drama hooey, a big bill that no one can afford to pay, pregnancy hooey, potentially hidden cigarettes, helicopters trying to put out the forest fire from above, “charm,” old family photos, attempted planning, yard raking, attempted ground wetting, hardware store hooey, multiple phone alerts, a traffic jam, a high wind warning, a growing fire, attempted escape, a scared deer, a massive car accident, mass devastation, a Zippo lighter, map hooey, a terrifying “person-on-fire” gag, attempted Percocet, a momentary mental breakdown, multiple explosions, another attempted escape, chainsaw hooey, a massive engine oil leak, exploding truck, falling embers, water drinking, cookie eating, an old truck with a messed up engine, guy falls down a hill and messes up his leg, lake hooey, contractions, off screen birth, and a sort of happy ending.

Kim Richards? None that we see.

Gratuitous: A falling leaf, “and Lance Henriksen,” “Inspired by True Events,” a charley horse, a 911 call center operator reading a fishing magazine, secret hamburgers, Lance Henriksen, Wheel of Fortune, Lance Henriksen watching Wheel of Fortune, family drama hooey, duct tape, a foot massage, Lance Henriksen talking about fishing, birds flying away, Glenn Morshower, Glenn Morshower running a hardware store, Lance Henriksen threatening to use the judo he learned in the army, cigarettes, talk of climate change, praying, a crank up emergency radio, a social media news montage, an explanation of “spot fires,” a terrifying “person-on-fire” gag, chainsaw hooey, truck engine issues, exploding truck, a rotary phone that still works, cookies, a makeshift splint, a call back to the duct tape, a baby, and time lapse grass growing.

Best lines: “See ya later, loser. Yeah,” “Dad, are you okay? I’d like to buy a vowel,” “Dave, if he’s still smoking I’m going to rip whatever hair he has left off of his small, frail head,” “Hey, Jessica, is there a fire in Culbert?,” “I appreciate you. You still going to love me when I get old? No. First time you wet the bed you’re going into a home,” “I want to go home and be with her,” “Hey, Miss Elkins! You doing okay?,” “Got any fire blankets, Marv?,” “Come on, Grandpa, you don’t want to die! Who says?,” “Evacuate your homes. Move as far east as you can,” “This is no joke,” “You can’t go that way! I have to,” “Fuck you, fire!,” “Things can be replaced, people can’t, Clay,” “This is the worst night of my life,” “I’m thirsty, Dave,” “Thank God for old people,” and “Your Mom just gave birth, do you want to meet your new sister?”

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
On Fire, directed by Nick Lyon and Peter Facinelli, is part family drama and part natural disaster action movie. Clocking in at a tight 80 minutes long, On Fire moves at a breakneck pace and is both exciting and heartbreaking. While it’s probably right to say that the plot isn’t necessarily new (natural disaster movies tend to feature the same sort of plot), On Fire is well-done, with plenty of great performances from a top notch cast. The special effects are also pretty great, too. And how can you say “no” to a movie with Lance Henriksen in it? Or Glenn Morshower? See On Fire. See it, see it, see it. On Fire is exclusively in movie theaters starting September 29th, 2023.

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On Fire, Bryan Kristopowitz