It’s a shame that overheated, toxic fans who hate Amber Heard long ago began review bombing her new psychological thriller, In the Fire. The film is terrible enough on its own without their help. To be fair, very little of the reason it’s bad has anything to do with her. Blame director Conor Allyn who oversaw a bland science vs. religion narrative, dull pacing, and the utter failure to differentiate from other movies about demonic possession.
In a rare centerpiece role for Heard, she plays Grace, a New York doctor in the 1890s who is called to a remote Spanish plantation to care for Martin (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini), a troubled boy the locals believe is pure evil. Martin does show signs of inexplicable abilities, and he has eyes of two wildly different colors, but Grace believes his problems are psychological in nature, all evidence to the contrary. For example, when a gang of men on horseback attack, Martin seemingly sends one of the animals into a frenzy.
The people of this town are extremely religious, believing from the moment of Martin’s birth that he is the Devil. They blame him for everything awful that happens. When famine and disease strike, killing the crops, the animals, and then the children, Grace is under threat just for treating Martin. After being whipped into a violent mob by a charismatic priest, the people go so far as to manhandle Grace before whipping her right in the middle of the street
Allyn previously directed the 2021 neo-Western, No Man’s Land, and he takes a similarly slow burn approach here. Under better circumstances that would be the smart course of action, but Allyn, who also co-wrote the script, brings nothing new to this familiar battle of faith vs. medicine. Grace becomes something like a surrogate mother to Martin, and we see the many sides of his personality. There are moments when he’s nurturing and generous (some demon he is!!), and others where he’s ready to unleash Holy hell. We eventually learn more of his tragic backstory and the overwhelming guilt the young boy carries, all of which Grace is all-too-eager to take at face value if it means helping her charge.
While the vast majority of characters are one-dimensional, leading to sleepy performances by the supporting cast, Heard is actually quite good as the caring, patient Grace. A flawed protagonist at best, Grace’s confidence sometimes borders on arrogance. It’s easy to understand why the townspeople despise this white, educated outsider coming into their village and telling them what’s what, and Grace does herself no favors by waving medical texts in their faces. Heard gives herself over to the role, the first time she’s had a lead all to herself in quite some time as she fights to rebound from years of bad press. I’m not sure In the Fire is the movie that will be the start of a career renaissance for her, though. It’s problems are many, such as stilted dialogue and predictable genre tropes, and there’s a general sense that this movie wouldn’t even exist if Heard had passed on it. But Heard can at least look back on the forgettable In the Fire and know that she elevated this weak material as best she could.
In the Fire is available now in theaters, VOD, and digital platforms.