Ojeda's "The Funeral Home" Perfect for Audiences with a Penchant for Claustrophobic, Gooseflesh-Inducing Ghost Tales

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The Funeral Home

Death, more than anything else, holds a macabre sway over humankind; it’s the ultimate mystery, unknowable to all in life, and those areas where we believe we may come closest to touching any answers to the eternal question of what comes after are viewed with an eerie blend of fascination and dread. In the United States alone there are in excess of 19,322 funeral homes, and while corporate chains have gobbled up many of the traditionally-owned businesses, there still exists many a family who live their days, spend their nights and share their domiciles with the dearly departed.

In the aptly-titled Spanish-language release The Funeral Home (La Funeraria) from Uncork’d Entertainment, Argentinean writer-director Mauro Iván Ojeda sets sights on one such abode with a story that seeks to explore not only the effects funerary care has on a domestic unit, but on what lingering otherworldly forces may await to ensnare those who spend so much time so near to death. Troubled funeral director Bernardo (Luis Machín) finds his life adrift with discontent following the passing of the father with whom he shared a turbulent relationship. His wife, Estela (Celeste Gerez) and her daughter, Irina (Camila Vaccarini) quarrel amongst themselves over their differing views on their new environment; Irina is ill at ease living life amid caskets and corpses, while Estela feels she had nowhere else to go following the death of her abusive first husband and resents the closeness Irina feels towards her own estranged mother. Complicating the familial matters are the nightly supernatural raids occurring throughout the house: slithering shadows creep room-to-room to spy on the family, enigmatic messages appear scrawled on fogged windows and notes left on the floor, pulsating lights flash and ghostly poundings echo on the walls. Bernardo has once already contacted a spiritualist to clear out the haunting, but the problem has only gotten worse and when it’s revealed that his own deceased father was the catalyst to the ever-escalating phenomena, sinister secrets are exposed that threaten to destroy all involved.

To those well-versed in spooky cinema, The Funeral Home may sound like nothing more than unspectacular spectral viewing; but Ojeda infuses the production with spine-chilling deliberation that elevates it above standard phantom fare. The film is heavy with doom and a rampant coffin-rattling atmosphere, drenched in midnight-pitch cinematography, and every shot makes scalpel-precise use of darkness--much of the time the audience is unsure if the movement seen from the black corners is real or imagined, an effect bolstered by the undulant shrill drone of a soundtrack that builds its cacophonous crescendo like fingernails clawing across the Devil’s blackboard.  

That purposefully slow-burn pacing bursts as the final act descends into fervent demonic frenzy, but the proceedings never delve into cliché pea-soup spewing faux-Exorcist hokum; instead there’s an unrelentingly bleak, foreboding downward spiral that never surrenders realism to over-the-top mayhem and special effects. In fact the biggest--indeed, the only--sin The Funeral Home commits is one of clarity; the piecemeal narrative style and, in particular, the ending leave doors too-readily open to abstruse  interpretation, and several intriguing story avenues shown to viewers are never properly explored. An ambiguous final scene proves there are no easy resolutions to a movie such as this, but for once filmmakers aren’t aiming for the safety of a smoothly dovetailing plot: at the end it’s as mysterious, unknowable and unexplainable as death itself, and in that respect is highly appropriate.

While unlikely to please those desiring witty repartee, hip Hollywood casts, and gratuitous gore, anyone with a penchant for claustrophobic, gooseflesh-inducing ghost tales should be extraordinarily pleased with The Funeral Home, and I hardily give it a superb 4.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

4.5 / 5.0