On Fire review – smoke-filled disaster movie asks God to help out with climate crisis

<span>Cheap smoke-machine effects … Peter Facinelli, Fiona Dourif and Asher Angel in On Fire.</span><span>Photograph: Signature Entertainment</span>
Cheap smoke-machine effects … Peter Facinelli, Fiona Dourif and Asher Angel in On Fire.Photograph: Signature Entertainment

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that eco-thrillers are films that preach to the converted. So, fair dos to this environmental drama for also preaching to another cohort of the converted: Christians. The script shoehorns in a few prayer scenes to appeal to viewers of faith – though cynics might think it is a shameless attempt to cover all audience bases. The story follows a family caught up in a wildfire raging out of control in California, shot in a throwback style to vintage disaster movies of the 80s – though clearly on a tight budget that really shows in some cheap smoke-machine effects.

Dave (played by co-director Peter Facinelli) is a builder who lives with his eight-months-pregnant wife Sarah (Fiona Dourif) and their teenage son in a house in the California forest; his elderly dad is in a mobile home in the garden. None of them are too concerned when a wildfire tears through a neighbouring community. Still, their home isn’t insured, so Dave drives off to the hardware store for supplies. He’s out when the evacuation order is issued for their area. Somehow Dave must dodge the police roadblock to reach his family and get them to safety (while finding time to squeeze in the odd plea to Him upstairs for help).

There is something depressingly retro about a plot that hinges on a man digging deep to heroically rescue his family. The two-dimensional stock characters don’t help; in fact, the performance of the film belongs to Ashlei Foushee playing a 911 operator, Kayla. The action switches to her taking increasingly desperate calls, feeling more and more helpless. Inevitably, Kayla’s story overlaps with Dave’s, before the movie fizzles out with a cop-out ending that dodges the big question raised here. When people lose everything in a climate-change related disaster, who should pick up the bill to rebuild lives and communities? You won’t find any answers in this movie.

• On Fire is on UK digital platforms from 15 April.