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Review: Burial – “An intriguing and unusual wartime horror”

Directed by Ben Parker
Starring Harriet Walker, David Alexander, Charlotte Vega, Tom Felton, Barry Ward, Kristjan Üksküla

Fresh from the 2022 FrightFest comes this wartime horror with an intriguing premise: a special Soviet team is tasked with recovering the body of Adolf Hitler in the ruins of Berlin in 1945, verifying they are indeed the remains of the Fuhrer, then to covertly transport the corpse across war-ravaged Europe, back to Mother Russia, where Stalin wants to look his opponent in the eye. Naturally, things go wrong, and as a secret mission, they can’t just call on reinforcements to help, because nobody knows what they’re doing or where they are going.

Burial is framed at the start and end by segments set just as Gorbachev announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union; an older woman, Anna Marshall (Harriet Walker) in a house in Britain is the target of what looks like a burglary and/or attempted assault one evening. Except the break-in is not what it seems, and indeed, neither is she. The intruder, a skin-headed man (David Alexander), turns out to be a Neo-Nazi, seeking something from her; she, in turn, is revealed to be more than capable of defending herself, despite her age.

Having overpowered and secured her would-be attacker, she begins to tell him a tale, to reveal to him the truth he thinks he wanted to hear. This quiet, older lady was once a combat officer for Soviet intelligence, and she was on that mission to spirit away the body of Adolf Hitler, part of a wider plan by the Russians to sow confusion among their wartime allies about whether Hitler was indeed truly dead by his own hand, or had perhaps secretly escaped, perhaps to South America as many other Nazis did (yes, even in 1945 Russia enjoyed spreading fake stories to confuse other nations, even friendly ones, some things, it seems change little!).

The bulk of the running time is taken with the journey of the small Soviet force (Charlotte Vega playing Brana Vasilyeva, a younger version of Anna, now living under an adopted identity) with the body, becoming stalled in rural Poland, attacked by the notorious “Werewolf” units, who have somehow learned what they are transporting. Here these real-life historical Nazi die-hards who vowed to fight on after the surrender in 1945 may not be actual lycanthropes, but through the use of wolf skins (shades of Nordic Berserkers) and a hallucinogenic smoke employed before ambushes, they create a phantasmagorical vision to their prey, distorting their sense of reality, heightening their fear, and, of course, making them easier targets.

I found this to be a fascinating film – it almost, but doesn’t quite carry off this interesting premise all the way (I felt it lagged a bit in the later sections into more of a straight combat between Nazis and Soviets), but some of that I think is likely due to budget and resource restrictions (as with any indie film, you can only do so much, and for the most part they do it rather well). The film also picks up on repeating themes – the collapse of regimes, the rise of new ones, collapse and rise again decades on, the brutality of both sides in war (the Polish civilians are as terrified of their Soviet “liberators” as they were their Nazi conquerors), and the role of propaganda and lies to further a cause and whip up hatred and fear.

The actual truth of what happened in those final days in the Bunker and of the ultimate fate of Hitler has fascinated many for decades. I first came across it as a history student reading Hugh Trevor-Roper’s classic Last Days of Hitler many years ago (he was a British intelligence officer tasked with finding the truth of those events despite much Soviet obfuscation), and it struck me right away as a terrific premise to use for a horror movie. In a modern era where the political ideologues still proclaim blatant lies to their faithful, with awful consequences for many, the story also has a contemporary relevance. While far from perfect, Burial is still an intriguing and unusual wartime horror.

Available on digital from 26th September.

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