Studio: Uncork¡¯d Entertainment
Director: Mauro Ivan Ojeda
Writer: Mauro Ivan Ojeda
Producer: Nestor Sanchez Sotelo
Stars: Luis Machin, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Susana Varela, Hugo Arana
Supernatural spirits haunting a funeral home force an undertaker¡¯s family to face their dark secrets.
I first heard of ¡°The Funeral Home¡± when the Argentinean thriller premiered at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival under the title ¡°The Undertaker¡¯s Home.¡± The Spanish-language movie made my ¡°this sounds interesting¡± shortlist and also appeared on a list of screeners available to press.
I contacted the third-party representative for the film but didn¡¯t receive a response. That¡¯s not unusual. It seems to happen at least once every Fantasia, and in other circumstances too. The arrogant side of me likes to shake off these silent rejections by imagining myself as a critic known for tough opinions that producers might be afraid of. The more honest reality is that I¡¯m probably too small of a fish to be a priority for busy PR people, or my message simply never made it to the appropriate inbox. There are always other movies to watch, so it¡¯s not a big deal either way.
Still, I¡¯d be lying if I didn¡¯t admit that at least part of me will wonder, ¡°is something wrong with this movie that they don¡¯t want me to review it?¡± Especially when I see other outlets don¡¯t encounter trouble obtaining the same screener. Then when I saw ¡°The Funeral Home¡± specifically had been picked up for distribution by Uncork¡¯d Entertainment, I had additional cause to be concerned that the film might not be worth my while.
I know what you think when you see the Uncork¡¯d logo. I think it too. For the sake of maintaining relationships with any relevant publicists who may be reading this, I¡¯ll refrain from detailing sordid specifics regarding the B-movie banner¡¯s less-than-stellar reputation. Let¡¯s just say Uncork¡¯d isn¡¯t exactly a Blumhouse-level brand in horror entertainment.
You may be surprised to learn ¡°The Funeral Home¡± isn¡¯t a typical Uncork¡¯d offering. Yes, only three people compose the core cast, the movie takes place in one location, and a low budget limits scope. Despite that though, ¡°The Funeral Home¡± doesn¡¯t look cheap, rushed, or made by backyard amateurs wearing blindfolds. The movie boasts terrific visual value for a small production. One could argue that the Uncork¡¯d title card becomes a boon because it dampens enthusiasm so much, you expect far less than ¡°The Funeral Home¡± delivers, which is quite a bit of dark family drama and chilling supernatural creepiness.
To measure how well ¡°The Funeral Home¡± aligns with personal preferences for paranormal frights, it¡¯s important to note that the movie very much fits the classical definition of a slow burn. For those turned off by ambiguity, it¡¯s also important to add that the movie¡¯s flickering flame frustratingly burns without context in the early going.
Undertaker Bernardo lives in a haunted funeral home with his wife Estela, her daughter Irina from a previous relationship, and a number of ghosts belonging to past patrons, deceased loved ones and, occasionally, malevolent mischief-makers. It¡¯s not immediately clear why the family tolerates the spirits, nor is it completely crystal how everyone relates to each other either.
Estela implies she dislikes Bernardo¡¯s dead father Salvador, who apparently dabbled in dark deeds. Unhappy with the troubled company she currently keeps, Irina longs to live with her initially unseen grandmother, whom Estela identifies as an emotionally manipulative woman. Kitchen table kibitzing coughs up these clues, along with our first indication that Bernardo is not Irina¡¯s birth father, which is one more vague link in a chain ¡°The Funeral Home¡± isn¡¯t eager to unveil.
On the haunting front, Bernardo regularly receives messages written in window steam or on paper pieces. These words lead him to an old bicycle, footprints in a flowerbed, and other items like a blue ball. Irina encounters a ghoulish figure with veiny white skin and another entity with a blackened claw for a hand. Estela shirks at similar shadows while being unnerved by a violet perfume noxiously invading her nostrils. Only the characters know what all of this means and for the film¡¯s first act, they aren¡¯t talking.
As alternately annoying yet alluring as these breadcrumb developments can be, ¡°The Funeral Home¡± eventually settles in to become more of a mood movie than a fiction-intensive one. And that mood is melancholy. Dour cinematography and the house¡¯s shadowed corners are echoed in constantly concerned expressions and slouching shoulders from the characters. Connecting the story¡¯s dots becomes less important than simply letting the tone smother your senses. What happens is writer/director Mauro Ivan Ojeda uses the palette of paranormal plot points to paint a macabre milieu marked by strobing lights, foreboding music, and suggestive dread sometimes punctuated by evil imagery.
Maybe that doesn¡¯t sound like much. But in a DTV realm dominated by slapdash footage shot on cellphones, the depth of Ojeda¡¯s deceptively Spartan style delivers a distinct impression. His camera stays fluid whenever possible, snaking through the setting to avoid stagnation while broadening the sense of space. Darkness dominates without swallowing details. If the opening wasn¡¯t so stingy about laying out exposition, and if the ending didn¡¯t indulge in a sentimental sequence that disrupts the narrative flow, I¡¯d notch the review score even higher purely because ¡°The Funeral Home¡± is an outstanding technical show reel for Mauro Ivan Ojeda¡¯s ability to construct a solidly cinematic fright film. That¡¯s a feat seldom seen at this lo-fi level.
Don¡¯t let the distributor, subtitles, or seemingly recycled setup deter you. ¡°The Funeral Home¡± would have been a great little find to discover in person through film festival buzz. Once you get over the hump of an initially awkward layout, you can engage in the atmosphere¡¯s enchantment. Appreciators of smoldering suspense, competent indie aesthetics, and touches of foreign flair to flavor the familiarity will be pleasantly surprised at how much polish ¡°The Funeral Home¡± puts on a traditional haunted house yarn.
NOTE: The film¡¯s Spanish title is ¡°La Funeraria.¡±
Review Score: 70