Written and directed by Ben Parker.
Starring Harriet Walter, Tom Felton, Charlotte Vega, and Bill Milner.
A small group of Russian soldiers have the task of taking Hitler’s discovered remains back to Stalin in Moscow.
Ben Parker’s (The Chamber) sophomore feature Burial certainly doesn’t leave audiences craving a dishy premise, and though a solidly executed jaunt, doesn’t hit the gonzo stride genre-savvy audiences might be expecting. Basically, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way; if you’re expecting to see actual werewolves or a zombie Hitler in this thing, prepare for disappointment.
Parker’s film kicks off in 1991 London as the Soviet Union crumbles down. An elderly woman, Anna (Harriet Walter), is attacked in her home by a violent skinhead, but she’s prepared for him. After subduing her assailant, Anna regales him with a story from her past, where at the tail end of World War II she worked as a Russian intelligence officer under her real name, Brana Vasilyeva (Charlotte Vega). With a small group of soldiers, her mission was to transport a coffin containing Adolf Hitler’s remains back to Stalin in Russia, yet en route the squad faced resistance from the famed Nazi Werwolf unit, who wished to claim the Führer’s body and bury it forever.
Burial is nothing if not a competently crafted period thriller, dripping in palpable mood and intrigue as to where it’s all going. Again, though, to avoid disappointment you’re best knowing from the outset that it never becomes Dog Soldiers. This is a surprisingly restrained and sober pic for the most part, running at a fairly low energy level for much of its 95-minute runtime, while building to periodic, workmanlike bursts of decent yet unremarkable action. Much of the focus is trained instead on characters who, thankfully, reveal themselves to be fairly compelling.
Parker’s script also does more than use the historical setting as a wholly shallow backdrop; there’s a keenness here to remember the horrors of war, be it soldiers abusing local women – enough that the locals think the Bolsheviks are just as bad as the Germans – or Brana struggling to give her male colleagues orders without facing sexist opposition. On a broader level, Hitler’s coffin also represents the desperate push-and-pull between opposed parties determined to write history, with both sides dead set on using the remains to their own ends; one to expose a truth, the other to conceal.
The primary reason this stew comes together is fundamentally the cast; as our lead Brana, Charlotte Vega gives a steely, composed performance as a woman committed to proving that Hitler was merely flesh and blood, and so ensuring she’s incredibly easy to root for. Though the marketing has unsurprisingly emphasised Tom Felton’s role as Lukasz – a Polish villager with German heritage and a very personal reason for hating the Nazis – he doesn’t fully enter the narrative until pic’s second half, but certainly enjoys a solid dynamic with Vega. It’s also worth singling out Harriet Walter, who gives a brief but memorable turn as the older Brana/Anna in the film’s wraparound frame narrative.
All in all genre fans might be left wishing that this slice of alt-history pushed things a little harder; the blood-letting is infrequent at best until late in the film, and even then, it’s reserved largely for realistic combat violence. The script also has its iffy moments, from on-the-nose parallels and clunky dialogue – a character even says “there’s a wolf at the door!” at one point – and a titular double meaning that some might find a little too cute for its own good.
But for the most part, Burial is an engaging war thriller topped by a robust cast and solid technical presentation, even if it might be a little too staid for its own good.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.