The Funeral Home


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Undertaker's Home
"The film is literally very dark, which can be frustrating in the dramatic scenes but works well with the approach taken to special effects, adding to the sense of threat and general unpleasantness." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

One way or another, everybody in Mauro Iván Ojeda's début film is living in the past. Bernardo (Luis Machín) has never come to terms with the death of his father, from whom he inherited the titular funeral home. Estela (Celeste Gerez) is still troubled by memories of her abusive first husband, who died in a motorbike accident. And Irina (Camila Vaccarini) longs to see her father again - in fact that's the main reason she's stuck around for this long in a place with a major spirit infestation.

Whilst the film is ostensibly focused on these hauntings and on what happens when a hostile spirit begins to trouble the family, it's really the relationships that lie at its core. Estela feels safe with Bernardo but their relationship is not a happy one. She can't have children and his attempts to bond with Irina are thwarted by teenage resentment. He takes refuge in emotional bonds with assorted ghosts, one of whom he describes as like a daughter to him, one of whom he seems to have a different kind of intimacy with. Although the family home is across the garden from the actual funeral home, ghosts have made themselves comfortable wherever they want, with local shaman Ramona (Susana Varela) advising that they be given private space so that everybody can get along. As a consequence of this, the rest of the house is crowded and constantly messy, and its living residents have to use a portacabin to go to the toilet.

With the presence of the dead meaning that there's never any guarantee of conflicts among the living coming to an end, the atmosphere in the house is suffocating. The narrative is full of comedic potential and a degree of dark, absurdist humour creeps in from time to time, but overall the focus is very much on horror, with the characters' various frustrations adding to the atmosphere. The film is literally very dark, which can be frustrating in the dramatic scenes but works well with the approach taken to special effects, adding to the sense of threat and general unpleasantness.

Little human touches in the midst of all this, like Irina spending time with her guinea pig, keep the film grounded despite its fantastic aspects. The acting is solid all round and the characters feel real, which is particularly noticeable in scenes when Irina is in peril. There's not a bit of the usual sexualisation of her character; instead the viewer is invited to share her fear as mundane settings reveal a deadly threat. In the poignant final scenes we get a hint of Ojeda's artistic ambitions with a scene that feels out of place in this setting yet somehow works, conjuring up a different type of cinema.

The Funeral Home does some things very well but feels underdeveloped in other areas. It's an interesting piece of work which shows a lot of potential and will appeal to horror fans looking for films with conviction, yet it doesn't quite measure up to the scale of its own ambition. One is left hoping that this talented team will work together again and reap the benefit of this experience.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2021
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The Funeral Home packshot
An undertaker's dysfunctional family lives amongst coffins, wreaths and mischievous but nonviolent ghosts - but then a malevolent entity arrives.
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Director: Mauro Iván Ojeda

Writer: Mauro Iván Ojeda

Starring: Luís Machín, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini

Year: 2019

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Argentina

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