Brain on Fire (film)

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Brain on Fire
Brain on Fire.jpg
Directed byGerard Barrett
Produced by
Written byGerard Barrett
Based onBrain on Fire
by Susannah Cahalan
Music byJohn Paesano
CinematographyYaron Orbach
Edited byJC Bond
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • September 14, 2016 (2016-09-14) (TIFF)
  • June 22, 2018 (2018-06-22) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • United States

Brain on Fire is a 2016 biographical drama film directed and written by Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett. The film is based on Susannah Cahalan's memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness and stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Jenny Slate, Thomas Mann, Tyler Perry, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Richard Armitage. The film follows a New York Post writer who begins to suffer a mysterious illness. Principal photography began on July 13, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 14, 2016. The film was released on Netflix on June 22, 2018.


Susannah Cahalan (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a writer for The New York Post who works with her boss Richard (Tyler Perry) and best friend Margo (Jenny Slate). She meets a sound producer named Stephen (Thomas Mann) and they become a couple. Susannah begins to experience strange things, such as going into a trance state, seeing people who are not actually present talk about her, and hypersensitivity to annoying noises and tactile sensations, and her behavior becomes erratic. Finally, Susannah suffers a seizure and seeks treatment.

After consulting with a clinic, her father Tom (Richard Armitage) confronts Stephen about not calling her parents regarding the incident. Tom suggests that she stay with her parents, which Susannah refuses to do, but in the end she leaves to stay with her mother, Rhona (Carrie-Anne Moss), and stepfather, Allen (Alex Zahara). At her mother's house, Susannah has another seizure. She is taken to a clinic where she undergoes an MRI. The doctor advises Rhona that Susannah has been partying too much, working too hard and not getting enough sleep. While at one of her doctor's appointments, Susannah becomes convinced that she has bipolar disorder, since she is creative and "creative people are bipolar". Another doctor prescribes an anti-psychotic medication which, after reading of their side effects and believing them as causing her symptoms, she refuses. Rhona gets her to take the pills anyway, and asks her father to watch her because she is too difficult to handle. During dinner with her father, she becomes violent, yelling at him to stay away. Her parents demand that she be hospitalized despite MRI, EEG and physical tests all showing normal results.

One of the doctors says to her parents that she could have schizophrenia. The doctor tells them that if Susannah's behavior does not improve, she will be transferred to another hospital, where they can deal with psychological problems. Susannah becomes catatonic, and Dr. Souhel Najjar (Navid Negahban) is asked to help in investigating her case. Najjar has Susannah draw a clock. She draws it with all of the numbers (1–12) on the right side of the clock, leading the doctor to believe that the right hemisphere of her brain is swollen and inflamed. Najjar has her undergo a brain biopsy in order to take cells from her brain for diagnosis. It is found that Susannah has anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis and Najjar describes it to her parents and Stephen as her "brain is on fire". Najjar prescribes her a treatment, which leads to a slow, but full recovery of her cognitive abilities.

Seven months later, Susannah is back at work and presents her first written piece to Richard since her recovery. A grateful Richard tells her to start writing a book about her experience. Sitting at her desk, she begins to write the story, titled 'Brain on Fire'.



On May 1, 2014, Deadline reported that Charlize Theron had acquired the film rights to Susannah Cahalan's 2012 memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.[6] Dakota Fanning was set to play Cahalan, a young woman who one day wakes up in a hospital with no memory of the events of the previous month.[6][7] Theron would produce along with Beth Kono and A.J. Dix through her banner Denver and Delilah Productions.[6] On January 22, 2015, Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett was set to write and direct the adaptation, while Rob Merilees of Foundation Features would produce and finance the film.[8] London-based Mister Smith Entertainment sold the film to international distributors at 2015 Berlin Film Festival.[9] Will Poulter was added to the cast on February 4, 2015, to play Cahalan's boyfriend.[10] On May 26, 2015, Thomas Mann and Jenny Slate were reportedly in talks to join the film, where Mann would play Cahalan's boyfriend, replacing Poulter.[3] On June 26, 2015, it was announced that Dakota Fanning had left the project due to scheduling issues, and Chloë Grace Moretz replaced her for the lead role.[2] On July 7, 2015, it was announced that Broad Green Pictures had come on board to produce and finance the film as well as distribute the film in the United States, while Lindsay Macadam would also produce along with producing partner Merilees.[11] On July 16, 2015, Carrie-Anne Moss and Richard Armitage were cast as Cahalan's parents, Rhona Nack and Tom Cahalan, respectively.[5] On July 20, 2015, Tyler Perry joined the film to play Richard, Cahalan's boss at the New York Post.[4]


Principal photography on the film began on July 13, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia.[5][11][12] Moretz was spotted filming at the Vancouver General Hospital.[13] On July 18, Moretz was filming a scene of a near-miss by a taxicab and the Vancouver street was transformed into Manhattan.[14] Production on the film concluded on August 10, 2015.[15]


The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 14, 2016.[1][16] Shortly after, Netflix acquired distribution rights to the film.[17] It was released on June 22, 2018.[18]


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 13%, based on 16 critics, and an average rating of 4.53/10.[19] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 34 out of 100, based on 5 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[20]


  1. ^ a b "Brain on Fire". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Kit, Borys (June 26, 2015). "Chloe Grace Moretz to Star in 'Brain on Fire' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Fleming Jr, Mike (May 26, 2015). "Thomas Mann, Jenny Slate Join 'Brain On Fire'; Dakota Fanning Stars In Woman's Descent Into Madness". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (July 20, 2015). "Tyler Perry Joins Chloe Moretz, Jenny Slate in 'Brain on Fire'". TheWrap. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Jaafar, Ali (July 16, 2015). "Carrie-Anne Moss And Richard Armitage Board 'Brain On Fire' Opposite Chloe Grace Moretz". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 1, 2014). "Charlize Theron Options 'Brain On Fire' As Star Vehicle For Dakota Fanning". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  7. ^ Scarf, Maggie (January 12, 2013). "BRAIN ON FIRE: My Month of Madness By Susannah Cahalan". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 22, 2015). "'Glassland' Helmer Gerard Barrett Set To Helm Dakota Fanning In Denver & Delilah-Produced 'Brain On Fire' – Sundance". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  9. ^ Barraclough, Leo (January 29, 2015). "Mister Smith Launches Dakota Fanning Starrer 'Brain on Fire'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  10. ^ Barraclough, Leo (February 4, 2015). "Berlin: Will Poulter to Star Alongside Dakota Fanning in 'Brain on Fire'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Kilday, Gregg (July 13, 2015). "Broad Green to Produce Chloe Grace Moretz Starrer 'Brain on Fire'". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  12. ^ SSN Insider Staff (July 13, 2015). "On the Set for 7/13/15: Jennifer Garner Begins Shooting Miracles from Heaven, Michael Bay Wraps 13 Hours & Doug Liman Calls Cut on Mena". SSN Insider. Archived from the original on 2016-04-03. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  13. ^ Brown, Scott (July 16, 2015). "Actress Chloe Grace Moretz researches for 'Brain on Fire' at VGH". The Vancouver Sun. Postmedia Network. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  14. ^ MailOnline Reporter (July 19, 2015). "She's a traffic-stopper! Chloe Grace Moretz suffers a near miss with a cab... but it's just for a scene in new movie Brain On Fire". The Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  15. ^ SSN Insider Staff (August 7, 2015). "On the Set for 8/7/15: Katie Holmes Directs Her First Feature 'All We Had', Chloe Grace Moretz Finishes 'Brain on Fire'". SSN Insider. Archived from the original on 2016-10-09. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  16. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 16, 2016). "Toronto Fest Rounds Dance Card: Terry George's 'The Promise,' Liev Schreiber In 'The Bleeder,' Terrence Malick Docu Among Pics". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  17. ^ Thompson, Anne; Winfrey, Graham (February 17, 2017). "Broad Green Pictures Is Missing Release Dates and Angering Filmmakers. Here's Why". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  18. ^ Farley, Rebecca (May 23, 2018). "Everything Coming To Netflix In June". Refinery29. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  19. ^ "Brain on Fire (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  20. ^ "Brain on Fire Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 22, 2018.

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