16 June 2024

Arrow Frightfest 2022 – Film Review -Burial (2022)

A small detail of Russian soldiers must protect the carcass of Adolf Hitler and deliver it to Stalin. In this gripping war movie about the true cost of occupation and the political machinations of liberation.

Set during the ugly death spasms of WW II Ben Parker‘s minimalistic but thematically ambitious war picture is both humanistically relatable and deceptively powerful. Bookended between two superbly written and acted sequences unfolds the fantastical tale of one woman’s determination to influence the squabble for the remains of the evilest human in history.

Do not expect the slam-bang pyrotechnics of Band of Brothers or similar grand-scale recreations of slaughter. Although Burial is not light on low-key action set pieces and military-based brutality, it is far more concerned with the moral and ethical cost of following orders and the collateral damage of political ambition.

It’s a philosophically unforgiving movie that probes far beyond the parameters of its relatively meagre budget and deep beneath the foundations of its ultra-high-concept premise. Amidst the understated realism and all-you-can-eat buffet of oscillating accents lurk moments of real power and biting vignettes of suffering.

The focal point of Burial is the doggedly unruffled intelligence officer Brana Vasilyeva, played with calm confidence by the impressive Charlotte Vega last seen in the latest Wrong Turn reworking. Her measured portrayal of impassioned loyalty offsets Brana’s bullish nature and sanguinary potential. Her motivation to complete the mission is not just blind devotion to Mother Russia but rather the urgent diffusing of a propaganda time bomb.

Of course, her nationality and devotion to the cause are of particular poignancy given the current crisis in Ukraine. Although not shown in a pleasant light the Russian army of the time is not overly demonised in as much as that war itself is the true ugly wickedness on trial.

Every night Brana orders her comrades to bury the politically sensitive corpse in case they are attacked in their sleep. A direct reference to the film’s title, but more crucially the entombment and subsequent resurrection is a neat metaphorical conduit for the movie’s narrative core. That of the desire to control the perception of a heinous dictator’s demise during the endgame of a massively costly and morally incendiary conflict.

At first, Brana’s unit has only the unsavory power struggles and conflicts of interest within themselves to contend with. However, there is a greater threat converging upon them in the shape of the shadowy Werewolf troops of Heinrich Himmler. Originally conceived to initiate guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines they have degenerated into otiose terrorists and inflict a sinister stealth-based campaign of violence upon them.

Each Werewolf attack is preceded by the deployment of lichen and mushroom smoke bombs that plunge their intended targets into a hallucinatory miasma. This mechanic suits the small-scale action set pieces perfectly and adds an air of surreal nastiness to them. 

When Burial does punch the body-count button the resulting chaos is satisfyingly well staged with bloody kills and sacrificial heroics. Thankfully, the filmmakers ring-fenced a healthy amount of the extensive drone and CGI budget for practical effects work, and as such, it remains grounded in its carefully fabricated microcosm.

Burial is yet another example of the fluid attitude to programming at play during Frighfest. It is a left-field choice but retains enough genre sensibilities to justify inclusion. Seeing a wonderfully crafted project like this supported by the festival circuit can only do good for the climate of grassroots movie making.

Intelligent and engaging indie war thrillers are scant on the ground these days with many discarded by the wayside due to budgetary overstretching and overindulgence in the effects suite. Burial on the other hand is a tonally pure exercise in honed restraint that strips the leathery skin of the traditional war movie back to expose a more philosophically intriguing musculature.



War Thriller, Mystery | UK, 2022 | 95 mins | Arrow Frightfest 2022 |101 films/Altitude film| Dir. Ben Parker | With: Harriet Walter, Tom Felton, Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner.

Available on digital 26th September. Early EST on selected platforms from 12th September from 101 Films

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