Bernardo (Luis Machín) is an unhappy undertaker who lives with his family in the house shared with the funeral parlour business Bernardo has inherited. His wife Estela (Celeste Gerez) is depressed, struggling both with the memories of her formerly abusive marriage and the lack of romance in her marriage to Bernardo. Her teenage daughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini) is mourning the loss of her father and demanding to live with her grandmother. This is somewhat unsurprising given their home is haunted by the restless spirits of the recently departed.
Writer/director Mauro Iván Ojeda’s brooding debut feature film The Funeral Home is an Argentinian supernatural horror that reminded me of Hereditary, yet the final sequence had the hallmarks of a Guillermo Del Toro tragedy, which is unsurprising given film is produced by DEL TORO FILMS.
The opening scene takes us around the home, giving a sense that we are viewing the family from the eyes of one of the spirits that haunts them. The home is poorly maintained and cluttered, which only adds to the eeriness of exploring a funeral home. We pass a door has the words ‘Do not use at Night’ written on it. Finally we are taken into the dusty room that once belonged to Bernardo’s father, his belongings undisturbed before an unseen entity comes to rest on the bed.
We learn that shaman, Ramona, has advised the family to give the spirits their own space. Irina has to use a bucket instead of the toilet at night, and the adults use the outside Porta Cabin. Yet the spirits do not appear to respect that sense of space, as Irina finds a naked spirit playing with her Guinea Pig in the dead of night. Bernardo appears to have an unhealthy fascination with the spirits, who appear to communicate with him via notes on paper and auto-writing. We also see the elongated fingers and red eyes of the demon. Whilst there are some genuinely creepy moments when we experience the hauntings, as the film progressed I became desensitised to it all. Therefore, I wonder whether Ojeda showed us a little too much.
The score throughout adds to the creepy atmosphere and builds tension in all the right places. The cinematography and practical effects are flawless. You are very quickly immersed into a macabre atmosphere which fills you with a sense of dread.
For me, the relationships between the characters add to the overwhelming sense of sadness. Each character is multidimensional and made entirely relatable by an exceptionally strong cast. Bernardo clearly had hopes for his relationship with Estela and Irina which have not come to fruition. Irina is still grieving for her father and appears to idolise him, rejecting Bernardo’s attempts to build a relationship as her step-father. We learn that Estela chose to have an operation so she would not be forced to become pregnant by her ex. Whilst Bernardo is kind and understanding towards Bernardo’s wishes, his grief is apparent when he brings a doll to a spirit and says ‘she is the daughter he never had’.
Estela appears to be in denial, accepting the presences of spirits in exchange for a man who respects her yet they no longer sleep in the same bed. Her sleep is assisted by medication. Estela takes Irina’s request to stay with her grandmother personally, describing how she used to hold ice against her bruises left by Estela’s late husband.
Romana returns as the hauntings appear to increase, and we learn the truth of Bernardo’s fathers passing, this really tore into my heart and I wish The Funeral Home would have continued this level of revelation which would have made it a beautifully haunting film. However, we then learn that Bernardo’s father liked the occult and summoned a demon, a fact noticeably absent from the first two acts, so the revelation by Bernardo struck me as lazy writing.
There are some genuinely terrifying scenes featuring Irina, played extraordinarily well by Vaccarini. One scene takes place in the bathroom with an entity trying to reach Irina, and her reactions are absolutely perfect. The other takes place in the Porta-cabin as the film reaches its climax. Ultimately, the film has a truly tragic ending, with the grieving Irina making sense of it all performing ballet to those she has lost. Something that was denied to her whilst they were alive.
The Funeral Home was a beautifully shot and compelling watch with a strong cast. However, I personally prefer to allow my imagination do the work and therefore seeing too much of the spirits and demon denied me the truly chilling experience I desired.