Burial - FrightFest World Premiere Review
Director: Ben Parker
Starring: Harriet Walter, Tom Felton, Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner
Written by: Ben Parker
Produced by: Paul Higgins, Matthew James Wilkinson
Cinematography by: Rein Kotov
Original Score by: Alex Baranowski
A small group of Russian soldiers have the task of taking Hitler's discovered remains back to Stalin in Moscow.
Alternative history takes on World War II are nothing new to cinema. We’ve had Nazi zombies with action/horror 'Overlord', Tarantino played with a plot to kill Hitler in 'Inglourious Basterds' and even the MCU had their first Avenger Captain America take on the Hydra branch of the Nazis. Whilst these were all gung ho crowd pleasing adventures, 'Burial' is a much more sombre affair.
'Burial' opens on Christmas Day of 1991 with an elderly woman (played by Harriet Walter) watching a news report on the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev as leader of the Soviet Union. After an abrupt altercation with a home invader who knows something about her past she apprehends her attacker and reveals to him that she once was an intelligence officer for the Red Army. From here she begins to tell them the story of when she was tasked with bringing the remains of Hitler to Stalin.
One of the chief strengths of 'Burial' is how director Ben Parker approaches the film’s themes through its imagery. The desaturated look of the establishing shots of post war Berlin as they pan through the ruins of the city paints a scene of desolation at the moment of victory. As the fog of war dissipates from the city, it leaves nothing but a grey shadow over the city. This look and atmosphere is carried throughout the film enhancing its sombre mood throughout which is a credit to the work of cinematographer Rein Kotov whose experience in the genre shines through.
The film follows a group of strung out soldiers who have been haunted and damaged by the war but are focussed on their task at hand. Even during moments of reprieve from their mission they reflect on not what they have won but what they have lost through the war. Their encounters with Polish civilians also allows the film to delve into the idea that no matter what side you are on, war brings out the worst aspects of humanity as they fell victim to the horrific actions of both the Nazis and the Red Army. Themes such as these are further compounded by the impressive string laden score of Alex Baranowski which shrouds the film in sorrow. As the younger version of Intelligence Officer Brana Brodskaya, Charlotte Vega does a fine job as a woman who holds her own in her male dominated unit. There is a real tenacity in Vega’s performance as she refuses to back down irrespective of the consequences of her actions especially when she questions senior officers. She clearly conveys her character's sense of fearlessness in their convictions as she is someone who is bound more to the truth than to her sense of duty to her country. She stresses the importance of letting the world know that the cult of personality surrounding the führer was nothing more than a facade and that he was nothing more than an egotistical coward. Vega makes statements such as these all the more through believable the steely look in her eyes.
In a supporting role Tom Felton does a fine job as Polish citizen Łukasz, whose life has been torn apart by the war. The rueful tone in his voice and sorrowful look in his eyes adds some humanity to the film. On the other side of things, the “Werwolf” resistance force (who assisted the Nazis behind Allied lines) lead by Wulfram Graeber (played by Kristjan Üksküla) is a paper thin villain. He is a man obsessed with stealing Hitler’s body to pull some sort of victory from defeat in the war but there isn’t much more to him as a character. It is a role that has potential to spin off into cartoonish territory but Üksküla gives a grounded performance.
The rest of the cast do a solid job across the board making the most of the material they are given but their characters feel underwritten and fall into cliché. There’s the stereotypical officer who abuses their power hiding behind their cowardice, the badass battle hardened soldier who can endure anything thrown at him and the young soldier of great intelligence but little heart that eventually rises to the occasion. With a bit more fleshing out they could have lifted the film but understandably this may have been to the detriment of the film’s swift runtime and pace. Like other war films such as 'Enemy at the Gates' the cast adopt different accents ranging from English to Irish to Russian which can be jarring at first but once you settle into the story they are nothing more than a minor quibble.
Whilst the battle sequences are on a smaller scale compared to what we are used to when it comes to big budget spectacle in a war film they still pack a punch. In spite of its scale the battle sequences are still impactful providing plenty of heft as every bullet is felt. As well as this the raids by the “Werwolf” troops almost tilts the film into the arena of horror as their use of hallucinogens combined with their outfits make them more of a frightening threat but this aspect seems underutilised with little pay off.
Whilst 'Burial' subverts the expectations that come with its premise by delivering a sobering look at the effects of war it also doesn’t bring anything new to the table. What it lacks in characterisation (for the most part) it more than makes up for with thrilling action sequences and a great leading performance making for a fine piece of alternative history.
- Joseph McElroy
'Burial' received its World Premiere at FrightFest 2022 on August 29th and will be available on digital (early on various platforms from September 12th) and standard digital platforms September 26th.