THE FUNERAL HOME (LA FUNERARIA, 2020)
Directed and written by Mauro Iván Ojeda
Starring Luis Machín, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini
When you own a funeral home, you’ve got to deal with ghosts. It comes with the territory, I guess. Bernardo (Luis Machín) owns the funeral home and has recently married his new wife Estela (Celeste Gerez). Estela’s daughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini) refuses to accept Bernardo as her new father and isn’t too happy with her mother’s marriage to him either. This highly dysfunctional family aesthetic makes for some bad vibes in a place already haunted by spirits. Though a local mystic has blessed the house and rid the house of most of the evil spirits, the funeral home has quite a few left over and there are specific rules that must be followed so as not to disturb them. Certain rooms are never to be entered and others, like the bathroom, must not be opened at night. As the hauntings escalate, the mystic is called back to uncover misdeeds of the family that have opened them up for an attack from the other side.
There have been quite a few, INSIDIOUS-style haunted house films coming from outside of the US borders these days such as HIS HOUSE and 32 MALASANA STREET. But for some reason, given that the actors and production lack that shiny Hollywood sheen, the haunts feels so much more effective. Argentina’s THE FUNERAL HOME is another strong effort in this ever-growing subgenre of horror.
The level of production that went into THE FUNERAL HOME is impressive. The film begins with some long tracking shots that really do a great job of establishing a dark and foreboding mood. It also highlights the wonderful attention to detail the film has from the garden planted in caskets in the backyard to the maze of hallways with messages on the door to never open after dark. There are quite a few of these shots which really up the intensity level and the altogether ooky feel. Adding to the horrifying ambiance is a wonderful score that incorporates unconventional sounds and screeching string instruments. This is a film that looks and sounds terrifying.
While it is often hard for me to distinguish, I found the acting to be one of the main weaknesses of THE FUNERAL HOME. Machin feels miscast as the mopey and pushover husband Bernardo. He just doesn’t have a strong presence. In fact, none of the three members of the family are that likable as they all turn out to be pretty horrible to one another. It makes it hard to really get 100% invested in their plight and kind of have a morbid sense of joy when they are tormented by the spirits.
THE FUNERAL HOME also has a broad mix of special effects. Some are CG bursts of light and invisible footfalls. There are also some nice practical effects for the evil spirits that are equally impressive. I also love the fact that this one isn’t afraid to use simple DIY effects. Once scene has a ghost writing on the steam of a window that is simply a cut away and the use of sound. Another has a person trapped in a Port-a-Potty and to communicate that it is shaking they just do the old STAR REK move where the actor acts off-balance and the camera man shakes the camera. The details of these haunts are nice and original. Bernardo has a relationship with past lovers who have passed that gets rather weird and kinky. Estrela and Irina are both haunted by their husband and father, respectively. The other ghosts are downright terrifying, especially the spirit trapped in the padlocked room which rattles the chains at night. And there’s a weird attention to bathrooms here. I counted four bathroom scenes which feels like two or three too many.
The flip flop ending might be a deal-breaker for some depending on whether or not you like optimistic or nihilistic endings. But I’m kind of glad they went for it, despite some of the schmaltziness. There’s enough good in THE FUNERAL HOME to ignore the not so good. A lot of work was put into the film and it shows as it offers up solid and original scares from beginning to end.