Written and directed by Ben Parker, “Burial” teased a lot of things that instantly tickled my fancy. It’s set during World War II, it’s built around a wild premise, and it’s distributed by IFC Midnight which is known for its focus on genre entertainment. I enjoyed the bits we got from the trailer, and I loved going into it with no idea of what to expect. So in all of those regards, Parker had me like a fish on a hook.
“Burial” turns out to be a crafty wartime thriller that rides its crazy idea all the way through. But that doesn’t mean it’s one-note. There’s a swirl of good ideas that keep the film’s seemingly simple story engaging. And there are several juicy themes that may not have the convincing modern-day connection Parker shoots for, but they’re still potent nonetheless. And while things do get somewhat convoluted, there’s still plenty to chew on and enjoy.
The main story is bookended by an encounter set in 1991 London. An elderly woman (Harriet Walter) has her evening interrupted by an intruder who slips into her home. After a well-timed jolt from her taser, she easily subdues the young thug. With the intruder in chains, the two begin a rather cryptic conversation. It turns out he’s not there to rob the place, and she’s not some helpless old maid. Who is she? To explain, Parker transports us back to 1945.
In the waning days of World War II, a small unit of Russian solider are tasked with transporting some special cargo from Berlin to Moscow. Transport by plane is no longer an option, so the group will have to drive their load to a train station in Poland, drawing as little attention as possible. Among the group is intelligence officer Brana Vasilyeva (Charlotte Vega), one of only three soldiers who knows the contents of the six-foot(ish) box they are transporting. Brana is tough and unyielding, but she needs to be. Especially among her all-male team members who routinely dismiss her and her authority.
Oh, and what are the contents of the crate they are carrying? Why none other than the remains of the Führer himself, Adolph Hitler who cowardly took his own life rather than face the punishment due.
While driving down a dirt road surrounded by a dense Polish forest, the team is attacked by werewolves. No not the snarling man-beasts who can only be killed by cutting off their heads or by a silver bullet. No, these are Nazi Werwolves – remnants of Hitler’s commandos who operated behind enemy lines as the Allies advanced through Germany. Here they’re led by an unhinged Hitler loyalist (Kristjan Üksküla) who has his own devious plans for the Führer’s corpse.
As the story moves forward with its alternative spin on history, it sets itself up for a big finish despite its small scale. We’re treated to some gorgeous location shots along the way, especially early on. And Parker’s camera is a big reason the violent final act works. And the committed performances, especially from Vega and Barry Ward, help sell the urgency and intensity.
There is a point in the middle that brings the film down a notch. During this relatively short stretch the story stalls a tad and the tepid action scenes emphasize the budget constraints. Also, I usually don’t get too caught up in this, but having the characters speak English stood out to me for reasons I can’t quite pinpoint. I wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but noticeable and a little distracting nonetheless.
“Burial” does a lot of things right, from its captivating setup to its blood-splattered payoff. The setting itself, soaked in the after-effects of Hitler’s reign, gives Parker room to look at different aspects of the war in a number of interesting ways. And at a swift 94 minutes, the movie doesn’t stretch itself out too long or too far. Even with its limitations, “Burial” has a lot to offer regardless of what kind of movie you’re looking for. It can’t fully overcome its issues, but it’s not overcome by them either. “Burial” opens in select theaters and on VOD tomorrow (September 2nd).