Every family has its sordid secrets. Brian (Vernon Taylor) holds nothing closer to his chest than the reasons behind his sad relationship with his wayward brother, Keith (Spencer Weitzel). Even Brian’s girlfriend, Molly (Faith Kearns), has no idea why the two are estranged. She barely knows anything about Keith at all. So little, in fact, that when she comes home one night to hear her partner speaking in hushed tones behind a closed door, she initially suspects an affair. Turns out it’s something worse. Far worse. Keith has come calling – and it’s not for a dinner party.
The Burial is a micro-budget horror flick. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s the kind that feels shot in a rental house on public land, with cars surely driving on a nearby road just outside the camera’s view. It requires some patience and buy-in from the viewer. Some forgiveness. When it comes to this sort of horror, you have to believe in the idea of what it wants you to see as much as what you see on the screen. This is a forest where spirits roam and judge the living. Does it always look like a horror forest? No, but you can pretend it does, because writer-director Michael Escalante and his cast are committed to their reality.
They do a good job creating an atmospheric thriller with an apocalyptic mood – and the blood to match it. Keith’s summons strands himself, his brother and Molly in a remote cabin. They’re soon haunted by Lenny (Aaron Pyle), a stranger who knows their darkest secrets. It’s one part “mysterious religious visitor” (reminding me a bit of The Righteous), one “part ghost-in-the-woods” action thriller (like Evil Dead). It’s a great mixture.
One of Escalante’s surprising secret weapons is an unhinged sound design that throws convention to the wind. It starts with knocks on the cabin, distant calls for help and footsteps in empty hallways. Later, once Lenny appears to monologue, the strange approach to additional dialogue recording starts kicking in. Sure, it’s probably a patchwork “this works, let’s just use it” kind of deal, but the way characters who speak off-camera never blend into the action as intended actually creatives an effective dissonance. We’re dealing with disembodied spirits, after all!
Like any horror of this type, a lot hinges on the characters. While the whole cast is good, Pyle is delightfully unhinged as Lenny. It takes a lot to make a quasi-religious monologue interesting in a horror film (as it feels like so many of them must have one these days), but he controls his moments.
Look: Know what you’re getting into with The Burial, which requires an audience with a curious disposition and a willingness to look beyond the production cracks in a movie that seems to have basically willed itself into existence through the creative commitment of everyone involved. Those with the right attitude will be rewarded with a strong thriller that patiently builds to an appropriately manic finish. I mean, it even features an axe fight. You can’t go wrong with an axe fight.