Review: A Sinister Record is a Platter of Life and Death in BURNING MEN

Two twentysomething male musicians and their newfound lady acquaintance find themselves entwined in a black-metal mystery in the new independent UK feature Burning Men. The film is a unique approach to the road picture, with our protagonists traversing England and encountering both supernatural and human threats.

Ray (Edward Hayter) is the guitarist and singer of the titular band, and Don (Aki Omoshaybi) is the bassist. When the two find themselves evicted from their flat, they decide to follow their dream of traveling to Memphis, Tennessee to perform and further their band career.

Ray and Don hope to fund their American trip by selling their record collection. When Ray sees a chance to abscond with a rare and highly valuable death metal album at a record fair, he takes it, setting off a turn of events that puts them and Ray’s newfound romantic interest Susie (Elinor Crawley) in harm’s way.

Director Jeremy Wooding — whose 2014 horror–western film Blood Moon is an enjoyable werewolf tale with fun practical effects — successfully mashes up road picture, supernatural horror, comedy, and coming-of-age elements to great, sometimes surreal, effect. The black metal record plot gives the proceedings an oft-present feeling of dread, but the film is filled with lighter moments and plenty of drama, as well.

The three main characters are an intriguing mix. Ray is a dreamer and opportunist who is plagued by haunting visions, Don is the more pragmatic of the band members, and Susie is a strong, grounding force determined to leave her boring life behind. Wooding cowrote the screenplay with music journalist Neil Spencer, and the duo has fleshed out Burning Men’s trio of protagonists quite well, giving them believable faults and strengths, along with snappy, realistic dialogue.

Hayter, Omoshaybi, and Crawley all give fine performances, inhabiting their characters with authenticity. The actors in secondary roles all give solid turns, as well, including Katie Collins as Susie’s hard-partying acquaintance Gemma, Christopher Fulford as used-record shop owner Lenny, and Guy Pratt as Susie’s friend Robert, who has some wise words and illegal substances for the trio.

Wooding has shot Burning Men mostly using point-of-view shots, with actors speaking directly to the camera. It’s an interesting approach that works well for the film, both adding to the disorientation and providing some engaging dramatic moments.

The music is another important factor in this film about rockers on the road to record shops, vinyl swap meets, and live shows. Justin Adams’ score offers up musical slices from the ethereal to the earthy, with a fine selection of diegetic music including alternative rock, dub, and blues.

Wooding has made some bold choices with Burning Men, and the film pays off with a big heart and touching humanity at the center of this tale of paranoia, friendship, and self-discovery.

Burning Men, from Munro Films in association with Lightbulb Film Distribution, Burning Men Pictures, and Stretch Limo Productions, will premiere at select British cinemas beginning March 1

ReviewJoseph Perry