There’s a great movie – or at least an idea for one – buried somewhere burial, but the final product is fine. In a follow-up to his disappointing 2016 debut, the roomIt is nothing if not ambitious, British writer and director Ben Parker shows, taking on a very different and very secret recovery mission this time.
It’s 1991. The Soviet Union is no more. A neo-Nazi breaks into the home of Anna (Harriet Walker), an elderly woman who seems more than ready for his arrival. She said it was tasers and drugs and handcuffed him. When he wakes up, he declares that he knows who she is and demands to hear the truth about the events that took place decades ago. Anna stops calling the police and obliges the young man to request.
Cut to 1945. World War II ended except for the formal surrender. Hitler killed himself in hiding. His decomposing body sits in a chest/coffin, and a group of Russian soldiers embark on a dangerous, secret and possibly history-changing mission to transport the body to Moscow, where the world can see that he is truly dead. However, German revolutionaries/Nazi sympathizers, referred to here as the Wehrwolves, attempt to interfere with this mission, hoping to either bury the Führer (and the truth) from everyone forever, or claim that the body is fake, thus preserving Hitler’s lie’s souls.
Here we meet Prana (Charlotte Vega), or Anna in her youth. She’s a Russian intelligence officer and translator who handles the effort to get Hitler’s body to Stalin. At first she did not realize what was inside the trunk of the car, which had to be buried every night, on orders from above. In addition, it deals with locals who do not distinguish between Germans and Russians, comrades who have little patience for orders from a woman (an interesting idea that Parker hardly explores), and the Wehrwolves repeatedly attack their troops. One of them, Captain Eliasov (Dan Skinner), is especially hateful, while local Lucas (Tom Felton), proves to be a worthy friend and ally.
Parker gets a lot right, drawing out this story across 93 minutes and making the most of atmospheric, Estonian forest settings. Period costumes, vehicles, and weapons look convincing. And major kudos to him for skipping zombies (a la Dead Snow), Tarantino-style revisionism (a la Inglourious Basterds), Grand Guignol violence (a la Al Pacino’s bloody television series Hunters or The Boys From Brazil), or fantastical humor (a la Jo Jo Rabbit). He crafts a mostly straightforward action-thriller, steeped in intriguing but little-known historical events—enough so to create this premise from whole cloth.
But without a deeper or more inventive twist, we’ve seen this type of story a million times before. It’s competently rendered, but nothing groundbreaking. And while some of the emotional drama hits home, the thriller elements rarely thrill. Vega and Felton, the beneficiaries of screen time that lets their characters grow, deliver strong performances, but the other actors seem called upon to wear either white or black hats—and nothing more. Even Walter, who replaced Dame Diana Rigg as “1991 Anna,” only modestly registers. Accents are all over the map.
Meanwhile, hallucinogens become a plot point for no particular reason, and with negligible results; the wonky visuals are cool, but they’re more distracting than anything else. Most problematic, however, is the film’s pacing. After the promising opening sequence, virtually nothing happens for another half hour. After lots of inconsequential talking that should have been streamlined, the film’s payoff—various shootouts and chases and showdowns—proves boring. Consequently, Parker’s film never fully recovers from its meandering build-up. You’d think that the story of what happened, or could, to Adolf Hitler’s corpse would be automatically pretty interesting. Sadly, Burial never manages to uncover a version that is.