Burning Men is definitely one of those films you’ll either find yourself delving and disappearing into, or it’ll completely confuse, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience a whole host of unique strangeness along the journey in what’s surely destined to become a cult classic. The film follows 20-something’s Ray (Ed Hayter) and Don (Aki Omoshaybi), who are thrown out of their London flat due to non-payments and see it as an opportunity to escape, so they plan to sell what they’ve got left and fly off the States to become famous musicians but, of course, things don’t really go as planned and they’re not exactly that street savvy with the world around them.
Struggling to make any cash from their ‘special’ vinyl collection, they end up stealing a rare Black Metal record from other collectors and leave town sharpish. Once on the road up North, in an old Volvo Amazon, they pick up some girls including Susie (Elinor Crawley), who brings a different vibe to the group and the film in truth, balancing out the opening acts that are a little disconnected. What makes Burning Men particularly unusual is the POV approach to filming the entire film, co-writer/director Jeremy Wooding first did this with Peep Show, because the point-of-view insight to each character means there’s no hiding from every reaction. This can be difficult to relax into as a viewer, not disregarding the technical achievements of course, because it takes longer to connect with the narrative.
Wooding co-wrote the film with music journalist Neil Spencer, so this is very much a film set within the bizarre, often detached world of touring and record shops. While I did have that aforementioned difficultly feeling like I was a part of the proceedings after a while that odd, captivating nature means you really are part of their strange, surreal road trip whether you intended to be or not. Beyond the POV, there are establishing shots that follow the car in and out of various scenes, this helps get a wider sense of their journey and, in a way, I’d have liked a few more. There is also an occasional issue with sound quality but this is definitely lo-fi indie surrealism so they get away with the odd, trip-like vibe of it all.
Despite some initial stereotyping of the two female characters we’re introduced to, thankfully that quickly falls away when Susie (Crawley) enters the fray. Her character brings gravitas and a more connectable human element to the story, which is helpful because Omoshaybi is also in that boat of reality, whilst Hayter’s Ray is often away with his thoughts and eccentric behaviours. I think Burning Men can fall into the sub-genre of a true ethereal experience, sit back and relax, grab a beer or two and see where you want to be taken as Wooding takes you into a world of poetry and metaphor.
So while I’m unsure what the point of everything was, in terms of odd moments, Burning Men is part-coming-of-age, part-road-movie, and part-surrealism. When you add in Justin Adams eerie, evocative score you’ve all the hallmarks for a cult favourite that’s equally out of its time but also off in a world all of its own.