TIFF 2016 Review: Brain on Fire
The year’s most important film that will help bring awareness to a rare disease.
Brain on Fire is based on the autobiography of Susannah Calahan. Susannah is played by Chloe Grace Moretz and the film showcases her battle with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.
I found Brain on Fire to be a fascinating film because I learned something totally new while watching it. I had no idea what encephalitis was so I appreciated how the film showcased all the stages, leading up to full catatonia. I love that the film focused on the people in Susannah’s life and how they struggled to accept that she was sick. The doctors just haphazardly guess what is wrong and have no problem just prescribing medication without thinking of the side effects.
Since this is an autobiographic film, director/ writer Gerard Barrett had to do a lot of research to accurately portray Susannah’s battle. The film might be a little difficult for some to watch because the majority of the runtime focuses on the disorder and how it is taking over Susannah’s life. The film shows multiple mood swings as well as multiple seizures. The film takes its time, demonstrating how this illness took over her life. Audiences should be aware that this isn’t a film made to entertain like most book to screen adaptations. It is an informational and somewhat relentless look into one woman’s battle with a life changing disease.
Chloe has always proven to be a great actress but I believe this is her strongest performance to date. Chloe captures everything that the real life Susannah must have faced and brought it to life with her performance. Moretz presents Susannah as this kind hearted and vibrant person early on. Once the illness begins that’s when Moretz becomes a tour de force. The scenes where she has various mood swings going from really upset to incredibly happy are perfectly played out. Also, the sequences where she has seizures felt genuine and really made an impression on the audience.
The supporting cast does a good job holding their own as well. Tyler Perry was particularly good as Susannah’s editor at the NY Post. I liked how his character was a hard ass yet was still a kind hearted soul underneath. Jenny Slate brought a much needed comedic element to the story, which helped the film shy away from this very serious tone from time to time. Thomas Mann was decent but didn’t have enough screen time. Mann was particularly good in a few scenes with Susannah’s dad, played by Richard Armitage. The one that stood out came near the end after Stephen had proven himself worthy to Susannah’s father. All the supporting characters added something to the story and weren’t just thrown in as filler. They all represented someone important in Susannah’s life.
In closing, I would like to point out that I believe Brain on Fire is a rare film that might help save lives and spread awareness of a rare disease of which so few people are aware of. While the film does have its fair share of flaws, such as a rushed ending, I commend Susannah for letting Barrett bring her story to life. It was so inspiring seeing this film at the Toronto International Film Festival and hearing and seeing various survivors share their stories in-person. This is an educational and important film that isn’t for everyone but will certainly find a dedicated audience. It is a very real and emotional tale with a powerful performance by Chloe Grace Moretz. Brain on Fire could very well be the most important film of 2016.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Brain on Fire is a 8 out of 10.