After the death of their father, a brother and sister must attempt to set aside their differences to settle the estate of an old family farm. Things are more complicated than they first seem, however, as a long forgotten family history begins to have strange consequences in the modern day. What these siblings don’t know about their ancestors might prove dangerous, and could have contributed to the death which has brought them back together.

One of the more unusual films to feature at FrightFest, The Ones You Didn’t Burn (2022) is hindered by an opening suffering from a level of cinematography considerably deficient than the rest of the film. These inconsistencies with the level of production value are somewhat rectified for the most part but these initial scenes are perceivably amateurish in composition as well as feature an uneven sound balance. Consequently, this switch in quality only highlights these rougher scenes, featuring professional displays of stable crossfades built from multiple shots only exacerbating this visual fluctuation. Sometimes shots are beautiful, and perfectly constructed in beautiful locations. Other points lack a similar undertaking, constructing whatever was quickest and calling it a day after a single take.

This could be symptomatic of limited resources, yet The Ones You Didn’t Burn never devolves into a total mess. The crew is especially adept at getting footage from vehicles, as well as shooting in near total darkness with a level of artistry that big-budget films can struggle to achieve (both are usually challenging to capture) but these scenes are certainly one of the film’s highlights. Nevertheless, the overall quality absolutely improves past the first act, although despite this upgrade, The Ones You Didn’t Burn‘s slow-boil plot barely saddles the edge of the horror genre. Light on conventual scares, this psychosexual drama explores modern feminist ideas of witchcraft mixed with a traditional role of antagonist that can equate to alarmingly horny situations at points. Contrary to the film’s foundational themes, these scenes offer an entirely different tone than one would otherwise expect – the slow pace almost complements this aspect.

Although The Ones You Didn’t Burn certainly lacks traditional horror elements, its implementation of drama and mystery tries to earnestly atone for this – promoting an ambiguous undertone through experimental storytelling. However, the sluggish tempos’ lack of progression ultimately provides an uneventful experience overall. Undoubtedly, an escalation in the film’s elements of horror, as well as a better distribution of content throughout would have helped polish a story created by a skilled team of filmmakers into a better final product instead of feeling frustrated at the wasted potential on show.

Although The Ones You Didn’t Burn is produced by a competent crew,  it doesn’t feel like it works as a standalone narrative. The opening is debilitated, the overall flow never seems to be truly engaging, and the finale needed to go hard to pay off such a slow burn yet remained low-key throughout. This is an admirable situation of trying and not succeeding though, as opposed to being lazy or filmed without passion, once the credits roll the feeling viewers will likely be left with is that of wanting to see what Writer/Producer/Director Elise Finnerty does next. Unfortunately, that leaves The Ones You Didn’t Burn in an awkward spot as a showreel piece that almost, only doesn’t quite, hold up on its own merits.

We watched The Ones You Didn’t Burn (2022) at FrightFest

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