Mike Gan’s psychological thriller, ‘Burn,’ follows the story of a lonely woman whose life takes a turn when the gas station she works at is robbed. The film starts with a simple premise, and things would have gone smoothly for the thief. However, the protagonist’s reaction to the events leads her to do some questionable things that affect everyone around her. Despite everyone wanting to leave the scene quietly and without violence, it all turns bloody as one unexpected thing after another happens. The director leaves the audience with an open-ended climax which raises more questions than it answers. Here, we break down the events of the film and decipher what it means for the characters. SPOILERS AHEAD
Burn (2019) Plot Synopsis
Melinda works a graveyard shift with her co-worker, Shiela, at a gas station. The customers are sparse and infrequent, and it’s like any other usual night. Melinda sees every interaction with a customer as an opportunity to form a connection, possibly romantic. However, her efforts to initiate a conversation are not reciprocated, making her feel worse. Shiela, on the other hand, receives quite a lot of attention. Melinda has a crush on the young Officer Liu, who is on his first-night patrol alone.
When Sheila finds out about it, she makes fun of Melinda, who goes out to get a cigarette break. When she returns, she finds Billy, the customer who showed up a few minutes ago, holding Sheila hostage and asking for all the money they have in the store. Instead of trying to keep the store from getting robbed, Melinda decides to help Billy. He is surprised when she asks if she can accompany him. Billy rejects her, and that’s when things get out of hand.
Burn (2019) Ending: Does Billy Die?
The first time we see Billy in ‘Burn,’ we know he is up to no good. He entered the gas station with the intention of robbery, and despite the issues with his temper, he thought it would go down smoothly. He meets a momentary wrench in the plan. Sheila tells him that all the money at the shop is in the safe and only the owner can open it. Even if he takes all the money from the cash register, that leaves him with only $100. His desperation reveals that he needs much more than that.
Billy is pleasantly surprised when Melinda reveals that she will get the money out of the safe. But he meets another curveball when she demands to leave with him. He is confused at this point, but because he has a gun, he gets the bag full of money and is about the leave the station. The night would have ended well for him if he’d just walked out of the door without looking back. He could have run away with the money or given it to the biker gang he claimed was after him. However, his temper gets the best of him when Sheila berates him.
At the beginning of the robbery, Billy believes he is the one in control. When Melinda offers to help him, he thinks it’s because she is scared. Soon, however, he loses all control of the situation and finds himself at the mercy of the girl he’d been terrorizing a few minutes ago. When Melinda throws hot coffee at him, he accidentally shoots Sheila. He ends up getting tied to a chair and is almost raped by Melinda. He tries to get out of the situation by sweet-talking Melinda, but she sees through his lies.
Eventually, Billy succeeds in freeing himself and evens the playing field by locking Melinda inside the store. He kills Sheila’s boyfriend, who’d been looking for her, and uses his car to smash through the door, leaving no escape route for Melinda. She begs him just to take the money and leave, but his temper again leads him to make the wrong decision. After being on the receiving end of a violent crime, he is angry and wants to make Melinda pay for what she did to him. This clouds his judgment, and he doesn’t stop to think that the entire store is covered with gasoline. He fires the gun, and its spark sets everything on fire.
Melinda gets out of the store, but Billy is badly burnt. His entire body is set on fire, and he has nowhere to go. Because the whole store is on fire, Billy cannot find anything to save himself. Melinda runs out of the front door, but Billy turns towards the other end. Even if he makes his way to the back of the store, he cannot get out of there because he blocked the door a few minutes ago to keep Melinda from escaping. As a result, Billy is caught in his own trap and dies.
What Happens to Melinda? Does She Tell the Truth?
In the film’s first few minutes, Melinda’s interactions with the customers show that she is a loner. She doesn’t have many friends, which is why she seeks some form of connection with the customers who come to the gas station. Her co-worker, Sheila, is rude and shows no intention of becoming her friend. Officer Liu is the only person who offers Melinda some semblance of kindness and friendliness. She has a crush on him but is too shy or scared to do anything about it.
Later, when Billy shows up at the store, he and Melinda have a brief encounter before he declares his intention to rob the bank. He talks nicely with her, which makes Melinda feel special. This shows how starved for affection, she is because she reciprocates Billy’s niceties by giving him all the money in the safe. Later, when she holds Billy captive, and he talks about how he wants to run away with her now, she sees through his lies which makes her all the sadder.
Unhinged as her actions might have been, the only thing Melinda wants out of the people around her is truth. She is not angry when people are rude to her face. She is angry when people pretend to talk nice to her, even when they don’t mean it. She doesn’t attack the customers who ignore her or even Sheila, who is rude to her all the time. She is triggered only when she feels she’s been lied to.
Extrapolating her feelings into the past, we can assume that Melinda has never really received genuine love from anyone in her life. This has made her so paranoid that even when someone like Officer Liu shows her concern, she is unable to accept it. It’s clear that even though he might not romantically like her, Officer Liu really does care about Melinda. He is kind to her and acts sensibly even when Sheila calls her out for sneakily taking pictures of him.
In the end, when the whole store has burned down and Officer Liu returns, Melinda realizes that his concern is not fake. He cares and is not being nice to her simply because it is his job. Does it mean that Melinda will tell him the truth? Probably, yes. She’d already made up her mind to do so when Billy locked her in the store. Moreover, considering her state of mind at the time and her desire for truth, she should find Officer Liu as someone she can confide in. She might reciprocate his honesty with hers and come clean about everything.
Melinda never intended for things to go this far when she thought about helping Billy and running away with him. However, for all her innocence, she was quick on her feet whenever things took a turn for the worse. She didn’t intend for anyone to die, but when Sheila is killed, Melinda calmly covers her dead body and cleans the place. She ties up Billy, almost rapes him, and even considers burying the bodies in a plot behind the store.
When it looks like things are completely out of her hand, she decides to burn down the store and plans to run away with the money. Despite her affection for Officer Liu, she was ready to kill him too. Considering all this, it is hard to believe she wouldn’t take the opportunity to wash her hands off the whole thing. With the whole store burnt to the ground, all evidence against her is gone. She could pin the entire blame on Billy. It’s his gun that killed Sheila. He killed her boyfriend. He tried to rob the store.
It wouldn’t be hard for her to make others believe he burned down the store and tried to kill her. With Officer Liu showing genuine concern for her, Melinda could play the victim and use his sympathy to get closer to him. It’s not guaranteed that it would lead to any romantic connection between them. Still, the fact that Officer Liu trusts Melinda and doesn’t believe her to be capable of violence would certainly help her walk away from the crime with no stain on her reputation and no doubts about her innocence. In the end, the director keeps the ending open-ended, leaving the audience to decide for themselves what they want for Melinda.
Read More: Is Burn (2019) Based on a True Story?