Everyone Will Burn is a hard film to pin down. With its stark defined title and slow, somber opening scene it might lead one to believe it is the next in a long line of films pulling inspiration from the A24 formula and the boom of heady art house styled horror that we have been enjoying for several years now. However, the film equally shows some inspiration by paying back to modern blockbuster horror films like the many entries in the Conjuring franchise. Together, these two styles clash a bit, but between them house an interesting narrative.
The film, directed by David Hebrero, opens with a bit of title card narration that sets up the central lore that the film works around referencing a secretive church order and a prophecy about the apocalypse. Through their interpretations of this prophecy, the Order of Rozas has averted the foretold cataclysm with the sacrifice of a child some forty years ago. It’s grim stuff, but par for the course for this style of pseudo-religious horror and fitting for a film that channels both the growing dread of The Omen and more bombastic films like End of Days in equal measure.
The first scene proper begins in full art house style with a dramatic build up introducing us to our lead Maria Jose (Macarena Gomez) standing on the edge of a bridge. Clad in black, clearly in mourning, we find her about to plunge off the edge in an attempt to take her own life. However, Maria’s actions are stopped by the sudden appearance of a young girl (Sofia Garcia) addressing her as mother. Confused, Maria inquires about her parents and ultimately concludes to take her to the local police station to get help.
This single choice is the inciting event that chains off a long series of twists and turns that bring the Order of Rozas’ prophecy back to the forefront. During their car ride, the radio speaks of growing natural disasters up to and even including the melting of the polar ice caps forcing sea levels to rise, endangering many areas worldwide. This kind of ominous backdrop foreshadowing is a constant throughout the film when they can steal a moment to have a radio play or a bit of background news on the television. It’s an enjoyable addition that helps to ramp up the sense of some pending apocalypse and build the sort of paranoid tension that surely hangs over anyone readily buying into such a concept.
It’s the end of this opening scene and the arrival of the film’s title that really veers us away from sticking purely in that art house horror tone. After being pulled over by some cops for a very mundane broken taillight, their questioning about the girl leads them to suspect something is wrong. When they try to restrain Maria and get a little rough, their actions prompt the girl to take mental control of one cop and force him to stab and kill the other. Then the surviving cop suddenly ignites on fire and stands before the duo, burning. We get an exceptional wide shot of him in the center of the road ablaze as the title descends from the top of the screen.
This scene unfortunately writes a check the film never cashes on. As we regularly joke on the podcast, this could be one of those films where the lowest level of film critic decries a one star Letterboxd review stating “everyone didn’t burn” and leaving it at that. That’s right, it may be a spoiler, but we never get an epic large-scale moment of immolation. The title has a much subtler meaning and if you can move past that, what the film delves into is perhaps equally intriguing.
The film’s score, composed by Joan Vila, mirrors the tonal inconsistencies of the film itself, bouncing between more somber tracks with some actual weight behind them and more standard studio horror flick fare. I think what’s important to note is that all of it is good despite the contrast between some tracks. When things ramp up during the last act of the film, there is one particularly striking song that really sells the apocalyptic events that are looming. I cannot state it enough how much Gomez’s performance as Maria carries the film. Not just the lead, she is also the emotional center of the story as well. It is harrowing to see her screams of confusion in the wake of the cop igniting on flames. Later, we learn the grief that led her to suicide is over the loss of her son, Lolo. In equal measure, she can flip in her performance between a sadness that truly tugs at your heart and explosive rage as someone that the citizens of their small rural town have wronged and continually tormented.
Feeling a sense of compassion and duty, Maria decides to look after the girl naming her Lucia. What follows for the rest of the film is the building of the title card’s prophecy cast against Maria’s troubled past and the growing paranoia of her neighbors and other townsfolk. We get a nosy next-door neighbor. A well-respected priest with a few skeletons in his closet. Maria’s ex-husband, who is both a famous artist and also spent some time married to her sister. It gets a little hard to track and during the film’s lengthy two-hour runtime, I sometimes had to pause and work out the varying connections.
In a way, I almost think I would have preferred this as a television or mini-series. It does border on feeling a little Telenovela at times. There is a lot to explore between the relationships of everyone in town, what happened with the death of Lolo, and the alleged fulfillment of the prophecy in the past. Given more time to breathe with several hour episodes, I could see this story pan out as a rather enjoyable Twin Peaks-y spin of a biblical apocalypse horror story. That’s not to say anything is lacking in the movie. It builds a complete picture by the end, but it uses every second of its runtime and expects its viewers to keep up with its breakneck pace.
The twists and turns in the plot are better explored firsthand, so if this premise captivates you at all, then I think it is worth the watch. Unlike say The Omen, however, there is no vagary about Lucia and her powers. She is clearly some demonic emissary that spends much of the film seeking supernatural revenge against everyone in town that has wronged Maria. She even conjures Lolo’s voice to comfort Maria during an early moment of doubt in their actions. However, what is more interesting is Maria’s character arc. She pretty quickly accepts her place in the prophecy and eagerly assists and protects Lucia, which was a turn I didn’t expect going in. They spend a lot of the film justifying her position and really it is hard to blame her after they tell the full story of what happened to Lolo and the poor treatment of both him and then Maria after his death by everyone in the town at every level of society.
The final act serves as an enjoyable reward for keeping pace with the film. Worked up into a fervor during a mass at the local church, an angry mob storms Maria’s home hoping to kill Lucia and avert the building apocalypse. It all plays out as a rather tense little home invasion scene that quickly spirals out of control as Lucia unleashes her full power. Eventually, they have no choice but to flee and the rest of the scene plays out while cast under the red tint of the blood moon spoken of in the very prophecy that has driven the town mad. We get a clever twist here too where even Maria has slightly misinterpreted what is going on, but it leads to one of the best moments of the film that once again pulls a bit on some more art house sensibilities. The credits stinger quickly swings us back to the realm of studio horror, but it was honestly such a fun moment both in execution and by what is being suggested for Maria’s future beyond the story that it left me walking away with a big grin on my face.
So everyone does not burn. Not literally. But maybe also that was never the point. The film offers a vision of a world where terrible people do terrible things seemingly without consequence, until Lucia comes into the picture anyhow, such that you’ll echo the title in agreement like some mantra. While at times Everyone Will Burn may come across as something of a jumbled mess, those willing to navigate its tonal shifts will find a somber meditation on grief weighted against a wickedly bombastic tale of revenge that uses modern blockbuster horror techniques to put a new spin on biblical apocalypse stories. As his second feature, Hebrero offers an enjoyable experience that makes me eager to see what other films may await in his future.