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Chattanooga Film Festival 2022: The Ones You Didn’t Burn Will Haunt You

Beginning with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “I believe men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung,” you get an introductory feeling for the tonally dark and anti-misogynist territory of The Ones You Didn’t Burn. While I hadn’t previously attached the notion of witches to the film’s title prior to the quote, it exudes the presumption of a reckoning. I became unfathomably excited in the first twenty seconds. 

Text says The Ones You Didn't Burn
Image Courtesy of The Chattanooga Film Festival

The Ones You Didn’t Burn follows Nathan (Nathan Wallace) and Mirra (Jenna Sander) upon returning to their childhood farm to sell the property after their father’s passing. However, returning home comes with its own ghosts, especially for Nathan, who begins having terrible nightmares of a beach and a woman coming out of the sea. As a recovering addict, events start weighing on him, steering him back into his old habits when he restores his friendship with Greg (Samuel Dunning). Mirra veers in another direction, becoming friends with their father’s farmhands, Alice (director Eliese Finnerty) and her sister Scarlett (Estelle Girard Parks). Revelations about the farm’s past begin coming to light, giving way to a centuries-old secret regarding the land’s original owners. 

The brother-sister reconnection between Nathan (Nathan Wallace) and Mirra (Jenna Sander) takes center stage in the film. And Finnerty has captured an exceptionally realistic portrayal of the highs and lows of caring for a family member suffering from addiction. It’s a well-rounded albeit dependent relationship that recalls a similar one in Robinson and Young’s Threshold, though Finnerty imbues The Ones You Didn’t Burn with better conflict, psychological elements, a more satisfying supernatural tension, and believable family drama throughout.  

A beach scene with Mirra and Nathan is a perfect example. Nathan opens up to Mirra about his nightmares and the death of his father. Being the POV character of the film, the viewer is inclined to be more empathetic to his trouble. Yet, listening to their conversation makes it apparent that he cares more about his own problems than any of his sister’s. This conflict between the two is what causes him to seek a dangerous outlet in Greg. 

Nathan looks around as Greg lights a joint in The Ones You Didn't Burn

Greg is a bro-dude guy with pornography on his television when people visit, posters of barely dressed women holding guns on his wall, and is the embodiment of zero emotional growth after high school. Greg’s the type of guy who will tell you he loves to get laid, but deep down, he hates women. He shows it by slinging degrading epithets at any woman who crosses his path and that he can’t produce something sexually from. I’d love to say this character is a faulty caricature in movies, but we all know it isn’t. Everyone knows (or hopefully has known—past tense) someone like Greg, and Dunning is flawless in giving Greg his edges where in lesser hands, the part could fall into two-dimensional territory.  

As Nathan’s nightmares get deeper and he succumbs to his addictions, The Ones You Didn’t Burn blurs the lines between the supernatural and high drama. Is Nathan facing a conspiracy perpetrated by the women around him, or are the drugs making him paranoid? Indications throughout point to him not always being the best person when it comes to respecting women. As he attempts to get Mirra to believe his cries for help, his aggressive tendencies become concerning. Perspective is everything, and to that effect, watching The Ones You Didn’t Burn was considerably like the first time I watched Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, where you’re made to identify with the POV character before coming to terms with the fact he’s actually the bad guy.

From the start, there’s a lot of love, patience, and beauty pouring through Finnerty’s lens. The acting is top-notch all the way around, and the cinematography is enchanting. This is a slow roll that actually rolls, meaning there’s no fat to cut here. Every little detail moves the plot forward. From Nathan’s poor choice of a container for his dad’s ashes to how he speaks to Alice, everything is worthy of consideration in The Ones You Didn’t Burn, and it’s a magnetic watch that mesmerizes you on the way to its incredible end. 

Scarlett, Mirra, and Alice sit at a campfire on the beach in The Ones You Didn't Burn

I honestly loved Elise Finnerty’s film. It instills dread, paranoia, tension, and conflict into psychological derangement and palpable terror. The words “we never forgot” ring like the empowering voices of abuse victims. Meanwhile, the comparison of Nathan’s frustrations in asking to be heard throughout his unraveling speaks volumes to the skeptical eyes and deaf ears of those surrounding him, watching him spiral. The Ones You Didn’t Burn is a powerful, socially relevant horror film filled with extraordinary performances, stunning direction, and masterful writing. It’s brilliant, and I look forward to whatever Elise Finnerty will be working on in the future.

As the first feature film I’ve seen at Chattanooga Film Festival, I have high hopes now for the rest of the slate. Chattanooga festival goers who enjoy Elise Finnerty’s The Ones You Didn’t Burn may also enjoy Landlocked and Honeycomb this weekend. Landlocked deals with similar themes of returning to a childhood home, and Avalon Fast‘s Honeycomb is a lo-fi gem that casts a charming allure of a coven-esque nature. 

The Ones You Didn’t Burn is playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival through Tuesday, June 28. Tickets can be purchased through Chattanooga Film Festival’s website, while a badge grants access to all of the films, shorts, and events happening at this year’s festival.  

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  1. Honored for this review. It’s poetic. Thank you so much! You captured everything about the film I could have ever hoped for.

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Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all things horror.

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