At the end of 2022, one of the last original releases platformed on Shudder was Ben Parker’s period mix WWII genre mash-up, Burial. Just based on the synopsis, it’s a little hard to tell what to expect from this one. The premise – Soviet soldiers ferreting Hitler’s corpse back to Stalin hunted by Nazi ‘werewolves’ – promises B-movie thrills. Some filmmakers, like Neil Marshall, have previously shown a knack for elevating pulpy material better. But promotional material downplays the horror and pulp, suggesting Burial may not be what’s advertised.
In the dying days of World War II, a Russian officer, Brana, receives orders to undertake a secret mission. The Soviets have discovered Hitler’s body and Stalin wants it brought back to Russia so he can see it with his own eyes. Under strict orders, Brana and a small group of soldier transport the coffin on foot from Poland to Moscow, stopping each night to bury it before digging it back up again the next morning. But along the way, Nazi ‘werewolves’ launch a guerilla-style attack to recover the Soviet prize.
Burial Sort Of Mashes Genres in a Misleading Way
Nearly 30 minutes into Burial, writer and director Ben Parker (The Girl on the Third Floor) drops the disappointing plot point for anyone who hasn’t read in between the lines of the promotional material. No, Burial isn’t about Nazi werewolves stalking this ragtag military mission through misty night forests in Eastern Europe. Instead, the term ‘werewolf’ here refers to stray Nazi soldiers who dress in wolfskins and use a mixture of burning lichen and mushrooms to induce an hallucinogenic effect. They’re guerilla soldiers intent on retrieving the Soviets’ prize. Even if the immediate tone dispels the idea that this is a silly exploitation flick, one can’t help but feel tricked. That is, Parker doesn’t drop this story reveal like it’s intended to be a twist. Rather it unfolds as part of a natural narrative. In particular, the need to bury the coffin each night feels like intentional – and unnecessary – misdirection.
No, Burial isn’t about Nazi werewolves stalking this ragtag military mission through misty night forests in Eastern Europe.
In addition, Burial adopts little in the way of horror conventions aside from sporadic imagery. Parker sets the thriller’s ambush in a misty European forest. Initial hallucinogenic imagery experienced by the soldiers allows for a handful of creepy moment. Yet Parker almost immediately explains away these images before settling into a war thriller standoff. While it’s all very watchable Burial never achieves any real suspense or tension. Even the movie’s opening prologue – which again teases something the movie is not – gives way to an unnecessary epilogue.
Burial Lets Down Its Weighty Themes and Decent Cast
What else will become quickly apparent is Burial’s real story or message. Though it’s not a horror movie in any real sense, Parker wants to tell a story about the horrors of war. More importantly, Parker is telling a story about history and how stories are passed on for generations. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of war movies – some of which that are classics – telling similar stories. In a handful of scenes, Parker reminds us that even the war’s ‘liberators’ committed atrocities. Arguably, Burial is at its most interesting when it turns its eyes onto the source of the mission. Both sides have their own reasons – a need – to recover Hitler’s body and tell their own story. Ironically, this part of story loses itself in Parker’s mixing of genres.
By and large, the ‘ragtag’ military group blends so much that few of the cast stand out.
Aside from its thematic familiarity, Burial suffers similar problems in its casting and characters. By and large, the ‘ragtag’ military group blends so much that few of the cast stand out. While we’re supposed to be in Easter Europe with Russian and Polish characters, just about everyone speaks with a British accent. As Russian officer Brana, Charlotte Vega (Wrong Turn, The Lodgers) immediately sets herself apart with a steely performance. Harry Potter alum Tom Felton also carves out a nice niche for himself as a sympathetic Polish village. Parker’s screenplay certainly assists both actors by giving them something resembling arcs. None of the performances are poor. Rather it’s a case of the story failing to distinguish one character from another, including the villains.
Burial is a Serviceable, If Not Forgettable, War Thriller
No, Burial isn’t a movie about Nazi werewolves. In fact, it’s not even remotely a horror movie despite borrowing some genre imagery occasionally. If you can put aside the misleading synopsis, there’s a perfectly serviceable war thriller here to watch. Parker doesn’t do much in terms of style or storytelling to distinguish his effort. And it’s not likely a movie you’ll re-visit. But it’s paced well enough to ensure you’ll stick through to the end.