Writer-director Michael Escalante’s The Burial is always hiding something. Thankfully, what is slowly unearthed is not as drab or derivative as simply a reanimated corpse or an abstract curse, but instead something novel and thematically compelling. With the aid of a clever script, Escalante’s psychological horror film utilizes the solid performances of its main cast to create an enthralling and mysterious atmosphere. In fact, the main setback is that it doesn’t realize when it has too much of a good thing.
The film follows Molly (Faith Kearns) and her boyfriend, Brian (Vernon Taylor). It begins when the couple is whisked away to an abandoned mining town where Brian’s estranged brother, Keith (Spencer Weitzel), has found himself in some trouble. But, as it goes with such things, nothing is as simple as it first appears, and the group is soon made to confront a series of unsettling happenings which reveal the hidden grievances of all involved.
The greatest strength of The Burial is that it is misleadingly unconventional. Escalante wants you to think you know what will happen and then upends your expectations. The filmmaker uses the idea of burials to parallel deeply entombed issues within the characters and then builds moments of horror on top of that foundation. Smartly, much of what is actually frightening is not something necessarily literal, like a figure in the darkness. Rather it is something understated, like an unwavering view of a building’s interior or an eerie conversation over the dinner table. The themes are well-integrated into the characters, helping to build an intriguing ambiance.
“…the group is soon made to confront a series of unsettling happenings…”
Furthermore, there are several moments of confident camerawork throughout the film that help to establish tension. Rarely is a cheap or random jump scare allowed. In particular, Escalante has a real knack for long takes, all of which punch well above their weight. There are also a handful of still shots that transform something as simple as an antiquated cottage into a space filled with secrets.
However, it is also in these moments that The Burial tends to overdo what it offers. For example, on one occasion, when surveying a house’s interior, the film cuts frenetically between multiple perspectives to give a fuller possession of the room. Unfortunately, this only jars the audience’s perception, and worse, it steals some of the tension the scene had skillfully built up until that point. In these moments, it is as if Escalante has too much to say.
The film’s loquaciousness (as it were) is at its worst in the final act, wherein the plot and the themes can’t quite come together to find a cohesive statement. The internal logic begins to break down under the strain of all the film is trying to convey, leading to a climax that comes across as disappointingly muddled. Still, there is a lot of technique on display in The Burial — a lot of it worth paying attention to. In many ways, it is a superb example that horror movies, especially indie horrors, don’t need to retread old ground to be interesting or effective.
"…a superb example that horror movies, especially indie horrors, don’t need to retread old ground..."