In the Fire marks Amber Heard’s return to the screen, portraying a psychiatrist who ignites a war of science versus religion when sent to care for a troubled boy.
Directed by Conor Allyn, In the Fire follows Grace (Amber Heard), a psychiatrist employed to care for Martin, a disturbed boy (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini) with inexplicable abilities. Grace is certain the boys ail derives from grief following the passing of his mother, but the villagers believe he is possessed by demonic forces and is the cause of the town’s misfortunes.
In the Fire is a gorgeous looking film. Shot predominantly in Italy’s Puglia region, the hilly pastures and bucolic shacks feel lived-in and authentic to its 1890s setting. When Grace first meets Martin, each frame is lit with considerable care as any clue of his condition falls within a shadow.
Zaini’s intense glare complements Martin’s uncertain air of wickedness and is well accompanied by Heard’s kind-natured Grace. In the Fire marks Heard’s first step in reclaiming her narrative as a performer, and without prejudice, she does an admirable job. Heard possesses a deep, soothing tone of voice when portraying psychiatrist Grace, warmly earning the trust of both Martin and the viewer. She becomes somewhat of a surrogate mother to Martin when she and his lonesome father (Eduardo Noriega) begin a romantic relationship. In assessment with Grace, Martin reveals more and more of what led him to disarray, including the guilt surrounding the incidental death of his mother. Grace believes Martin can be cured medically, much to the dismay of the town.
In the Fire has all the tools to be wildly terrifying, namely a suppressed kid with a gamey eye and a demoralized priest leading his petrified flock. But Allyn chose a subtler, more mystifying route by dividing science and religion. Grace soon realises the people of this small Columbian town are deeply engrossed in their religious beliefs. The villagers have no regard for this stranger, especially one who is a woman of science. Allyn demonstrates this in a harrowing scene early on in the film where Grace is stripped to her sleeveless-bodice and publicly whipped.
Allyn opens what could’ve been a fascinating conversation about science and religion, but doesn’t delve any further than its premise. For much of the film, Grace is certain science is the only plausible solution for the town’s woes. “There is always an explanation”, she often states. In the Fire hints at a deep trauma that Grace harbours but we don’t learn a lot about her past or what drove her devotion to science, therefore, her dismissal of religion never truly unravels. It’s not until a heated scene plucked from the film’s title that Grace begins to question her beliefs. As suspicions grow, the villagers choose to act out of desperation and become hellbent on killing the boy, leading us into an exciting third act.
In the Fire isn’t particularly remarkable and may have benefited from a more profound exploration of its themes, but Allyn delivers a subtle exercise in horror, led sturdily by Heard.
In the Fire is now available to watch in theaters, on demand, and on digital in the US. The film will be released on digital platforms in the UK & Ireland from 6 November, 2023.