Have you, dear reader, ever thought about why it is a good thing that human beings are not immortal? Or, at least, that we don’t just plod along until some grievous injury does us in? From a personal perspective, the shortness of our lifespans in relation to the age of the universe is tragic, but from a cultural perspective the situation is ideal. Because all that is old becomes new again in much less time than it takes to turn over the entire human population. So, even though haunted house films have been made countless times, and have reused countless tropes and clichés, horror fans can still get a kick out of a new entry.
From just this past year, and coming to us via Argentina, The Funeral Home tells the desperate tale of the owner and operator of said funeral home, his wife and stepdaughter, and the ghosts that live there.
Written and directed by Mauro Iván Ojeda, The Funeral Home stakes its claim as something bizarre early on. Bernardo (Luis Machin) is an older middle-aged man who went through life childless and unmarried until he met Estela (Celeste Gerez). She is a widower, happy to escape the abuses of her husband, but left to fend for herself and her daughter. Bernardo represents something of a white knight for her, and, truth be told, she needed one. Estela’s daughter, Irina (Camila Vaccarini), still holds a torch for her father, and uses his memory, along with her paternal grandmother’s meddling, as a cudgel against her mother, saddling Estela with guilt she doesn’t deserve.
The property where they all live has the family funeral business at the front, a house at the back, garden in between, and a line of red spray paint demarcating a border between the living and the dead.
Apparently, Bernardo’s father (Hugo Arana, who died from Covid this past year), was into the occult, and his shenanigans might be the reason a slew of ghosts have chosen to make the property a home. A local psychic, Ramona (Susana Varela), in an attempt to clean the house of spirits, has negotiated a settlement with the dead, wherein half the property belongs to them, and half to the living. That’s why the red line is there, like when a pair of siblings get into a tiff and divide their bedrooms. It’s an interesting solution, but, like all negotiated borders, doesn’t address the root cause of the problem.
Everything described above is derived from insinuation and exposition, and is just background for the plot. The action of the film relies on this background, without giving many hints to a viewer. For viewers going into the film blind, it takes almost the entire film to pick up on all of this, and that’s not necessarily to the viewer’s benefit. It’s a good thing, then, that a viewer’s efforts in trying to piece everything together don’t distract from an otherwise fine ghost film.
All three of the central protagonists struggle with the ghostly stuff, some more than others. Irina wants to move in with her grandmother, Bernardo is exploring a very strange kink, and Estela just wants something approaching a normal life. They are all trapped in the home, not by external forces, but by their own problems.
The first hour of the film’s tight 86-minute running time is spent in establishment, and then, somewhat suddenly, viewers are treated to a fantastic final act, where the characters have had enough, and call in Ramona to finish the job of cleaning the house, Tangina-style.
There were any number of familiar ways this final act could have gone. Ojeda, to this point, had made a film that was familiar in a broad sense, but it had enough granular uniqueness that it would have been disappointing had the finale been just like any other ghost flick. He made sure it was not. In this final act, the curiousness and wonder of the viewer is rewarded with something very chilling, as the negotiated peace between the living and the dead unravels. The sequence is punctuated by a scene in which viewers see nothing but hear everything, spending the time with a very frightened teenager. This scene alone is worth the viewing.
An original script, original production, and fine performances from the principals, make this a welcome addition to the horror genre. The lack of exposition early pushes frights to the background as viewers try to piece together the puzzle, but the final act does much to erase the flaws and frustrations of the first hour. One would do well to add this film to their October horror flick viewing.