Indie Film Review “Heaven Burns”



First, the Recap:

The desire to achieve. When goals we have chosen to attain seem far off and unreachable, how often do we seek out any possible way to make them happen in spite of them?  To overcome the obstacles blocking our path, how far would we go to watch those walls fall? More importantly, what price do we pay for doing so? It’s a normal suburban neighborhood that Ryan (Clayton Myers) finds himself existing within. Despite having a mediocre job at the local grocery store stocking shelves, Ryan keeps another more clandestine revenue source coming in as well–as a pot dealer. Only looking to make enough money from it to finance his dream to go to college and become an architect, his life still remains, overall, on the up and up by decisive choice.

However, things change radically upon meeting and subsequently getting involved with a first love named Kat (Whitney Nielsen), a wild child from an affluent but controlling family. Suddenly thrust into a whole new level of drugs, alcohol, and generally delinquent behavior as Kat’s inner demons come raging out, Ryan soon finds himself on a downward spiral, dangerously close to losing complete sight of his true ambitions. Soon, he is dealing with unsettling, confrontational situations involving his drug supplier Harris (Jan-David Soutar), Kat’s parents Tom & Susan (Spencer Garrett & Tracie Jules), and his own strung out, wayward single mother Cheryl (Cheryl Scungio) even as he attempts to recover his own balance and focus.

Next, my Mind:

Taking a decidedly adult approach in execution while presenting an intensely dramatic narrative involving the angst of adolescence, the consequences of decisions, the power of first love, the need for forgiveness, and the surfacing of inner pain, writer/director/editor Justin Beckenheimer’s debut indie feature film is no cheerful stroll through the already formidable late teenage years but rather a gritty, darkly comedic, raw exploration of being human. Yet, even in the midst of so much that seems impossibly irreparable, there is an ultimate ray of hope and light to be found in the film’s finale. Solid cinematography carries the viewer through a sea of initial chaos the two primary characters are experiencing in coming together, and even the film’s alternative rock/pop soundtrack adds the necessary atmosphere to events witnessed, ebbing and flowing from out of control back to a sense of stability and sense of joy.

Myers very deftly navigates Ryan’s character, presenting a young man who’s honestly desperate to leave anything that would seem jaded in his life behind for pursuit of his more legitimate goals. Yet, his path to obtain what he needs to reach that point is filled with questionable choices that are somewhat masked by his overall amicable demeanor, desire to see the best in people, and will to succeed. Nielsen’s performance as Kat is acutely impassioned, portraying a young woman whose past and current pain drives her to delve much deeper into the means by which she finds the “peace” she really desires, dragging anyone who gets caught in her wake right down with her. She delivers a cool, cute, happy attitude that can just as quickly fade and be replaced by an angry, spiteful streak a mile wide, and it’s this dual nature that becomes her biggest enemy. The fiery relationship between the two characters is a tangible force to be reckoned with.

First-rate supporting turns are provided by Soutar as scummy drug supplier Harris, Scungio as Ryan’s out-of-reality mother, Garrett and Jules as Kat’s frustrated, embittered parents, April Sigman as Kat’s older, can-do-no-wrong sister Bobbi,  Caroline G. Pleasant as Ryan’s handsy store boss Missy, Jacob T. Moran as Joe, an old friend of Ryan’s, and Ryan Thomas as Dave, Joe’s father and friend to Cheryl. In total, despite much harsh language and a, albeit brief, sex scene this reviewer simply found distracting, “Heaven Burns” is a fantastically energetic, earnest indie film effort that does what so many films within the genre strive to do–present actual plot, character-driven story, and resolve that reflect the heart and passion of the filmmaker who brought it to life. Successfully done here.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!



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