Review: Burn a Debt

Written and directed by James Ristas, a short film about violence and forgiveness. Starring: Kris Salvi, Lisa Nichole Young, Steve Peeps, Amber Myers, Samantha Noble Webb and Steven Burstein.

Bringing through strongly religious themes, particularly those that follow a traditional route, is no easy task in today’s landscape, you’re immediately adding a huge challenge to relate its messages in a way that works with a modern audience. The style that Ristas chooses for Burn a Debt attempts to stand between the modern and the traditional, its visual is strikingly of the latter, bringing a much more analogue approach to tap into the historical and biblical origins of its story. Ristas has quite a unique, determined style, it doesn’t always work perfectly but it’s hard to deny that he clearly has a definitive, specific vision of what he’s trying to achieve and doesn’t stray from the stringently religious tone to his films.

The writing side in this particular instance feels like it’s following that more loosely, while the overall themes are undoubtedly of classic religious tales or forgiveness, persecution and judgement, but the way that they’re brought through can feel messy. In particular, the use of toy soldiers and figures that take the story completely out of itself and rather than achieving a simple and effective representation of the story, it adds a strangely parodical tone which feels entirely out of place. From that point, it doesn’t have the chance to fully recover before the film reaches its conclusion. However, the story may also struggle slightly because of the large issues it’s trying to handle in such a short time, it asks the questions of whether a criminal deserves forgiveness and how our perception can change how worthy we think different people are of that forgiveness, when shouldn’t it be for everyone? It’s a hard subject to tackle in the short film format and Burn a Debt gives it an admirable attempt but doesn’t quite get there.

The performances are solid from the entire ensemble of actors but there are times when the situations feel slightly over-staged and don’t allow for a smooth running to its story, which can in turn make the actors feel wooden. Salvi is entirely convincing in creating the arrogant, brash and aggressive Louis, while Myers does well to bring that unending generosity and calm to Bernadette.

Burn a Debt takes a unique style and gives itself a difficult challenge of relating a traditionally biblical story to a modern audience but not everything works together smoothly to rise to it. It’s an admirable effort to make something different and offbeat, sticking to its guns but the story was aiming too high with its subject, it didn’t have the time to fit everything in, in a satisfying manner.

Verdict: ✯✯| 4/10

Check out the trailer here

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