The Burial (2021) Review
The Burial begins with a man sitting alone sobbing in the shot’s background, a rifle placed conspicuously in front of the camera. You expect the camera to reveal a dead body or someone about to pick the weapon up. Instead, it closes in on him and we see he has his phone out.
The location shifts to an apartment where a couple, Brian (Vernon Taylor) and Molly (Faith Kearns, Not Your Average Fairytale, Dead Ink Archive) have their breakfast interrupted by a phone call. When Brian goes to another room to answer it Molly can’t resist following, eavesdropping, and demanding to know who it was. It was his estranged brother Keith (Spencer Weitzel, Halloweeners, Anomaly X), the man we saw in the opening. He needs Brian to come to his place right away, and alone. So of course Molly demands Brian bring her as well.
Writer/director/editor Michael Escalante lays on the dysfunctional relationship vibes heavily in The Burial’s opening act. What came between Keith and the rest of his family? Why does he need his brother’s help now? Why is Molly so insistent on tracking Brian’s every move, does she have reason to suspect infidelity? Is she paranoid or is she just a control freak?
Being an extremely low-budget film, questions and suspicions are pretty much all Escalante has to work with, and he uses them wisely to keep the viewer interested. We now sooner get an answer to some of the questions than more pop up. And when we get the answer to what should be The Burial’s most important question, why did Keith call, that just leads to even more questions.
Keith has shot Lenny (Aaron Pyle, The Gift, The Jungle Book) and, as befits a film called The Burial, wants help disposing of the body. But as the brothers argue the body starts to move, eventually attacking Keith only for Brian to smash its head with a rock, getting himself involved. From here, things become even more complicated, with hints that the supernatural may be involved. Especially when Lenny reappears alive and seems to know a lot of things he shouldn’t.
The entire cast, all four of them, deliver excellent performances. But Pyle’s chilling performance as Lenny is what really helps take The Burial to the next level and hold our attention as he sits telling what at first seems to be a rambling, pointless story. Is he the kind of incredibly durable psychopath that the genre is known for, a spirit coming back for revenge or something else from beyond the grave?
OK, maybe that isn’t all that hard to guess, but he sells the confusion right up until the plot requires it to be revealed. And that leads to a genuinely tension-filled last act where I had no clue who, if anyone, would survive. There is, BTW, a post-credits scene if you’re into those.
For a microbudget film, The Burial looks and sounds extremely good with the possible exception of a couple of the outdoor night scenes which are dark to the point of not being able to see a thing. And I say possible because other similar scenes are fine, so it might have been intentional. This might be the result of Escalante having been an intern at Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures where cheapness became an art form. Also, credit cinematographer Sean E. Zilke (Piñata, Apocalypse Maybe) and Ashlee Vaughn who, along with Rscalante, composed the film’s minimal but creepy score.
I’ll admit I was going to pass on The Burial having seen way too many films with similar budgets and plots that didn’t have the ability to overcome their limitations. I’m glad I changed my mind, this is one that gets it right and then some.
Terror Films has released The Burial on VOD and Digital Platforms including Tubi. It comes to the Kings of Horror YouTube channel with a screening accompanied by cast and crew members on March 24th. And if you want to dig a little deeper into the genre, FilmTagger can suggest a few places to start digging.