Frightfest 2020 Review: The Funeral Home
Mauro Iván Ojeda's debut feature is a creepily haunted tale of domestic dysfunction
Written by Anton Bitel
At the heart of The Funeral Home (aka The Undertaker's Home) is a dysfunctional family. Bernardo (Luis Machín) runs an undertaking business from a building across the garden from his home, lives in the shadow of his recently departed father, and longs to have a child of his own. Instead he has Irina (Camila Vaccarini), a disgruntled teen stepdaughter who would rather be living with her more indulgent grandmother (Graciela Bonomi). Irina's mother Estela (Celeste Gerez) is relieved that her controlling, violent first husband has died in a motorcycling accident, and appreciates the quiet decency and kindness of her new husband - but she frets about their lack of intimacy, about her own inability to produce more children and about Bernardo's wandering eye for other women.
As if there were not already more than enough tension in this household, the trio share their home with a number of 'presences' who come out at night, manifesting themselves as eerie lights, communicating through messages written on paper or on window panes, and even taking on palpable ghostly form. On advice from the shaman Ramona (Susana Varela), parts of the house (the bathroom, the bedroom of Bernardo's late father) have become no-go zones at night, and a red line has been painted across the garden demarcating the spaces for the living and the dead. Yet as the hauntings intensify, Bernardo turns once more to Ramona, and over one long, increasingly desperate night, they will be confronted with something that is more than a mere ghost from the past.
Set in a place where funeral rituals are regularly conducted, Mauro Iván Ojeda's feature debut at first normalises the world beyond by showing a family that has learnt to live with the death constantly at its door. Near the beginning, Estela is seen using a coffin as a flower bed, seeding new life from old - and Bernardo makes a daily crossing from his domestic quarters to the memorial room on the other side of the property where the dead are laid out. In their different ways, these living residents accommodate their nocturnal guests: Estela sleeps through the night in a medicated haze; Irina, though reluctant to stay, hangs around in the hope that she might see her late father once again; and Bernardo is engaged in a very peculiar affair, both extra-marital and inter-dimensional.
Perhaps the films providing the closest analogues for these otherworldly invasions and shamanic interventions would be Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982) and James Wan's Insidious (2010), although The Funeral Home also boasts the sustained domestic creepiness of Demián Rugna's Terrified (Aterrados, 2017) and, towards its end, the surreal danse macabre of Dario Argento's more supernatural films (Suspiria, 1977; Phenomena, 1985). Unnerving from its opening, not-quite-disembodied POV shot that gives an intrusive guided tour through the property's exteriors and interiors, this haunted house movie offers a stylish depiction of resentments, grudges and betrayals which have left their mark from beyond the grave, and a family's difficult, damaged love that finally finds expression and resolution in the most unexpected way. A master of oppressive mood and atmosphere, Ojeda is definitely one to watch.
Director: Mauro Iván Ojeda
Screenwriter: Mauro Iván Ojeda
Cast: Luis Machín, Celesete Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Graciela Bonomi
Running time: 86min