Film Review: Burial
Director: Ben Parker
In Theaters and Streaming on Demand 09.02
In the 1998 film Small Soldiers, Phil Fimple, played by the late Phil Hartman, is watching a war movie on TV and remarks, with deadpan delivery, “I think World War II is my favorite war.” There’s such a strange irony in how we cannot get enough of reliving this horrific era on film, and Burial, a new period thriller opening this week, aims to mine this fascinating period in history for cinematic gold.
Burial begins in 1991, as the Soviet Union is collapsing and Anna Marshall (Harriet Walter, The Last Duel, Ted Lasso) watches on the television when a man (David Alexander, Into the Badlands) breaks into her apartment to attack her. Anna easily subdues and ties up the assailant, because she has what Liam Neeson would call “a very particular set of skills.” It seems that Anna hasn’t always been Anna. We then flash back to the last days of the war, to a young Soviet Intelligence officer named Brana Vasilyeva (Charlotte Vega, Wrong Turn, American Assassin), who, in the last days of the war, has been leading a band of Russian soldiers delivering the crated remains of Aldolf Hitler back to Stalin in Russia. En route, the unit is attacked by a band of German partisans, waging war in the woods under the ominous and badass moniker of “Wehrwolves.” An intrepid female intelligence officer, Brana Vasilyevs, leads her surviving comrades in a last stand to ensure their cargo doesn’t fall into the hands of those who would hide the truth forever.
Burial sounds quite promising on paper, and the opening scenes with Walter, a glorious actress, had me holding my breath with excitement. The story itself isn’t as strong as the premise however, and while the first 35 minutes or so are loaded with tension-building atmosphere, Burial becomes more routine and far less interesting as it goes. Still, it never stops being watchable, but the budget restrictions and writer/director Ben Parker’s aimless approach makes the film flounder in the middle section. Burial is the kind of film where you can tell that the filmmaker assumes that, because he knows and cares about the characters, the audience does as well. The trouble is that Parker knows the characters in a way that he never lets us experience, whether it’s intentional or simply a failure in the execution. There’s just enough action to keep things moving, but not enough tension to keep it actually tense.
Walter steals the entire movie, and she is so commanding in the wrap-around segments that it leaves Vega with a bit of challenge in making the younger version of the character live up to it. The fact that Brana is less interesting than Anna should be blamed more on the shortcomings of the direction and script, as Vega certainly gives it her level best. Tom Felton (Belle, the Harry Potter films) is sadly underused as Lukasz, a Polish man hiding out in the forest. Felton provides a welcome presence, and his fans will be happy to see him here. The fact remains that the main story simply isn’t nearly as compelling to watch as the set up, and coasts along, relying heavily on the hope that all things World War II-related are inherently exciting enough to keep us glued to the screen.
Burial isn’t a bad film, by any means. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a waste of time as a rental, it’s simply not the movie that it had the potential to be. If the words spoken by Phil Fimple are all too relatable to you, you might find that Burial is worth a look if you keep your expectations firmly in check. –Patrick Gibbs