Burial begins with an attempted robbery. A man, a neo-Nazi based on his tattoos, breaks into the home of an old woman (Harriet Walter), but this isn’t just any old broad. Turns out, she’s former Russian soldier Brana Vasilyeva (Charlotte Vega). Brana, along with a few others, were tasked with transporting Hitler’s remains to Russia to prove to Stalin that he’s dead and the war is thus over.
The troop is ambushed and picked off one by one by German ‘Wehrwolves’, lethal partisans who need the remains so that the war can continue and Hitler’s death remain a secret.
To state the somewhat obvious, Burial is a completely fictional story. It’s a fascinating premise, one that feels particularly timely now that neo-Nazism is on the rise, but unfortunately writer-director Ben Parker gets lost in the action to deliver any kind of meaningful message.
The most jarring aspect of Burial is the casting. Everyone is British, with British accents, regardless of whether their character is Russian, German or Polish. Charlotte Vega and Tom Felton stand out from the cast, mostly because A) Felton is famous enough to be recognised and B) Vega is the only woman in a military suit.
Particularly awkward is a scene where the Wehrwolves capture one of the Russian soldiers, claiming “He only speaks Russian,” but because they’re all in fact speaking English, the scene comes across as laughable and awkward. The director said during the festival Q&A that they didn’t purposely do accents because they’re so difficult to get right and usually just come across badly and despite looking at casting Russian actors, they went with Brits. Regardless, it’s a misguided choice.
Everyone else is lost in the sea of identical costumes. No one’s names or ranks are made clear enough, which immediately tells the audience these characters are going to be killed soon enough. It’s perhaps this lack of effort to surprise and shock the audience that lets Burial down even if you’re willing to look past the accent issue.
Vega and Felton do the best they can with their thinly written roles. Vega portrays Brana’s desperation palpably, but Parker’s script never quite makes it clear why this mission seems so personal to her. Felton plays a Polish man who joins the troop, but it’s never made clear why he goes with them so eagerly. All the characters lack motives as well as any kind of personality or inner lives.
Burial is also strangely held back. There are glimpses of a scarier, more tense film as characters start to hallucinate in the forest at night due to drugs, but this is quickly abandoned in favour of a more traditional drama. Burial becomes a chore to watch; Parker refuses to take any risks with the narrative so the film just treads along to an inevitably dull and predictable ending.
Parker’s film feels like a missed opportunity and a misguided attempt to say something about history. It feels a little self-congratulatory without ever having to question or challenge any of the characters’ world views. It also paints an uncomfortably heroic image of Russians, who have committed some terrible war crimes, both in World War II and in Ukraine now. Burial would have been best left buried in a vault somewhere.