Brain on Fire

Stricken with seizures, psychosis and memory loss, a young New York Post reporter visits doctor after doctor in search of an elusive diagnosis.

Year: 2016
Certificate: 12
Director: Gerard Barrett
Starring: Chloë Grace MoretzThomas MannRichard ArmitageJenny SlateCarrie-Anne MossTyler PerryAlex Zahara

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Guest Reviewer: Laura Baldwin (from LW Freelance Writing) [twitter] [blog]

When Charlize Theron acquired the movie rights to the story of Susannah Cahalan from her book; “Susannah Cahalan: My Month of Madness” and a whole host of accomplished actors were cast for the screen adaptation, an explosion of talent and an edge-of-your-seat narrative was anticipated.

The film began with the calm voice over of Susannah (Chloë Grace Moretz) herself, piercing the thoughts of the viewer as she asks; “Have you ever been trapped? Lost in your own body? Lost in your own mind?” before bursting on to our screens in a dramatic, attention-grabbing scene of Susannah writhing around on a hospital bed, as she begins to realise that she is restrained to the bed unable to escape, complete with EEG cap and wires, screaming for help.

The film then jumps to scenes of a happy-go-lucky Susannah, a young, New York Post journalist striving to achieve status in the newsroom and with her boss, Richard (Tyler Perry) for whom she appears to have an underlying respect despite her sassy attitude towards him. This is about as far as the film goes to establish the main character in the minds of the viewer. We are left knowing very little about twenty-one-year-old Miss Cahalan or her boyfriend Stephen (Thomas Mann). We are given titbits of information such as her newsroom career and his musician status but nothing of real depth of character. Moretz and Mann are both difficult to relate to in their roles. In fact, throughout the film, we are left assuming he is on the cusp of leaving her, given that the movie does very little to portray their relationship and any strength it may have and a feeling that Susannah is much younger than the twenty-one-year-old she is supposed to be.

The same can be said of most of the characters surrounding the lead. Tyler Perry crumbles in his role as editor of the New York Post. One can only assume the relationship he has with Cahalan goes deeper than displayed given how unrealistically accommodating he is as her boss. Jenny Slate plays Susannah’s friend and colleague, Margo, and appears to be trying to resurrect her comedy career with every line, although we do see some genuine emotion later in the film in a very touching scene where Margo visits Susannah in hospital, that reassures us that her character does genuinely care for her friend and Slate is capable of establishing a connection with the audience despite her most recent work of voicing animated characters. Canadian actor, Carrie-Anne Moss unsurprisingly provides an outstanding performance as Susannah’s desperate yet composed mother and British actor Richard Armitage is unquestionable as an angry American father looking to save his daughter.

The film does seem to jump straight into the symptoms Cahalan is facing from very early on and, for a while, this manages to retain the attention of its audience on curiosity alone, however, one hour and ten minutes into a story less than ninety minutes in duration, viewers are still asking “Will an answer ever come?” Perhaps this was the intention of the movie, to replicate the frustration the family must have felt. If it is, then they certainly achieved their intention but with little to no character building they ran the risk of viewers not really seeking an answer to this poor woman’s illness but an end to the film itself. A conclusion is finally reached in the final ten minutes of the movie in a very Hollywood-esque ending that feels very much like the producers ran out of time and had to cut short the story.

This important story offers a platform for conversation as it raises much-needed awareness of an incredibly rare disease that would perplex most medical professionals and therefore the adaptation to the screen has a very important role indeed. The film topic was fascinating. That said, the film lacked depth of character which weakened the narrative and left it with a distinct taste of a ‘True Movies’ style adaptation, destined only for daytime T.V. Whilst it was not completely unwatchable, it is the importance of awareness and the short length of this film that persuades the viewer to persist until the end and it was disappointing that the film did not reach higher ground given its backing by some big names and a promising budget.

Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

About Laura

Copywriter at LW Freelance Writing. I'm also a mother and wife, owner of two dogs and practicing Christian. Passionate about TV, film & cinema, spoken word, poetry, politics, autism and, feminism. Poet at

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