The Funeral Home, the debut feature from Argentinian director Mauro Iván Ojeda, is well-tuned in fits, but remains somewhat indistinct.
The horror genre is a vast ocean, and it makes it hard for new ideas to distinguish themselves. Perhaps it is most helpful to view the successes and shortcomings of the new horror film The Funeral Home through the lens of its status as a debut feature. Mauro Iván Ojeda, a first-time writer-director from Argentina, has clearly done his research: a glance at Ojeda’s Instagram shows an affinity for Hitchcock and a sustained passion for the macabre. At a slight 85 minutes and firmly planted in a hybrid zombie-ghost story, The Funeral Home is a comfortable space for Ojeda to stretch these influences to feature length, even if the project is not particularly ambitious in its final state.
The Funeral Home focuses initially on undertaker Bernard (played dexterously by prolific Argentinian character actor Luis Machín), a beleaguered and aging man trying to do best by his wife Estela (Celeste Gerez) and stoic stepdaughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini). The film takes its time in introducing both its setting and characters; still and steady camera movements through the empty home at the beginning set the tone long before we first see a human’s face. This is a fractured group, dispossessed from each other in ways not dissimilar to the ways their cadaverous charges have been separated from the living. The family finds itself haunted by spirits of former relatives, further dredging up the unsavory details of their shared history.
From this rich premise, The Funeral Home stumbles primarily in its script’s execution. The structure of the film regularly alternates between exposition-laden, unnaturally blunted conversations and impressive, often near-silent set pieces accompanied by tactile, practical creature effect work, and the latter greatly outweighs the former.
Ojeda builds tension in silent moments best. His opening shot sequence of the empty home and a particularly beguiling scene towards the end of the film – an expressive dance in the dark, performed elegantly by Vaccarini – play particularly well, showing both ambition and ability. It’s the dialogue that lets things down, halting the flow of the film with plainspoken character motivation hardly befitting such an otherwise reticent family unit. One or two rote horror beats, such as bringing in a medium to assess the haunting, also downplay the film’s more unique ideas.
The Funeral Home is a fun and sturdy film, but its best moments make one wish it was as careful in exploring its character dynamics as it is in its visuals.
The Funeral Home plays virtual theaters on January 29, before a digital release February 2 via Uncork’d Entertainment.
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