Synopsis: In the last days of WWII, a band of Allied soldiers trafficking Hitler’s remains out of Germany is ambushed by Nazi Werwolf fighters
Stars: Charlotte Vega, Tom Felton, Harriet Walter, Barry Ward, Kristjan Üksküla, Dan Skinner, Bill Milner, Niall Murphy, Tambet Tuisk, David Alexander, Hendrik Toompere, Esther Kuntu, Sten Karpov
Director: Ben Parker
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: It always feels slightly ghoulish to me to set a freaky flick within the context of a historical war where millions of lives were lost because the atrocities of battle are horror on their own. Adding that extra element of terror feels like overkill; as if the situation wasn’t bad enough, why don’t we pile on more devastation? True, the rise, reign, and downfall of Hitler’s Nazi army have provided the basis for successful films like 2018’s Overlord and 1978’s The Boys from Brazil. Yet, upon reflection, something exploitative in the telling gives the viewer pause.
Approaching a movie like Burial, I expected some of those same feelings to reignite and was surprised to find Ben Parker’s film more substantive and considerate than its premise might suggest. Here’s a movie that is allowed to develop naturally, doling out its narrative with an easy hand that draws you in and up to the edge of your seat as you follow along. It’s less of a horror film and more of a taut thriller that relies heavily on its solid performances when its screenplay drifts into the more outlandish aspects of its third act.
The less you know about Burial, the more fun you’ll dig up along the way, so I’ll try to give you just the bones of what you need to know.
A framing device begins the film in 1991, introducing us to elderly Anna (Harriet Walter, The Last Duel) in her London flat as she watches news of the Cold War ending. A thief seeking more than mere money breaks in that same evening, but he’s chosen the wrong victim because Anna is the keeper of secrets that stretch back almost half a century. Once she has him where she wants him, she gives him what he thinks he wants, the tale of her previous life as a Russian soldier and the end of WWII mission that changed her life forever.
In 1945, Brana (Charlotte Vega, Wrong Turn) was among a small group tasked with the ultra-secret job of transporting the body of Adolf Hitler out of Germany into Russia so Stalin could see for himself that the Nazi leader was dead. This was a time when rumors kept people alive, and only cold, dead proof would convince otherwise, so it was critical this mission succeeded for the world to rebuild. Unable to travel by plane, the military brigade travels by truck through territory still occupied by Nazi fighters that remain loyal to their leader.
When they are ambushed outside a small village and its surrounding forest, Brana and her team must protect their cargo from vicious hunters who know what they are carrying and are determined to stop them from reaching the border. Mistrust within the group and fraying mental states add to the problems, not to mention the rampant sexism hurled towards Brana as the sole female amongst them. Unafraid to put the mission before lives because she realizes its importance, it soon becomes a game of cat and mouse as the soldiers are tracked over foreign terrain by an enemy familiar with the surroundings.
The performances are right on the money, starting with Vega as the headstrong (but not always confident) heroine who is all business, that is, until she reaches a profound moment of realization that feels like a culmination of everything she’s seen so far in the war. Vega’s calm composure is a nice counterpoint to Barry Ward’s (Dating Amber) take a licking and keep on ticking grunt, who becomes her ally even as their colleagues begin to gang up on them. I’m not always one for bookends in a movie, but Walter is a droll delight, never at a loss for pulling a trick out of her sleeve at the last moment.
At 95-minutes, Burial wastes little time standing still in one place for long. This keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace and gives even slower dialogue-heavy scenes an urgency to them because you begin to understand how much time plays a factor in survival. Movies in wilderness environments (including night sequences) can often feel bewildering. That’s not the case here. Parker’s assured direction and Rein Kotov’s striking cinematography allow the viewer to keep up without hanging back. You always know where you are and what’s happening, only adding to the general feeling of uneasiness running through the film.