Fantasia Film Festival 2020: Daniel Wood Reviews The Undertaker’s Home

The Undertaker’s Home is a house of horrors genre film with a cracking premise, an Undertaker and his family willingly live alongside the spirits of the ones they help to bury and one of Fantasia Film Festival’s more interesting horror offerings from this year.

The Argentinian horror film from first-time director Mauro Iván Ojeda focusses on funeral home owner Bernardo (Luís Machín), his wife Estella (Celeste Gerez) and his stepdaughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini) as they navigate their ghost-filled everyday life, having learned to live with the wayward spirits that sometimes let hamsters out of cages or sprawl messages on the walls.

It’s a great premise that highlights that often spirits don’t have to be malevolent and demented forces of destruction that want to hurt people, and by doing so, it heightens the fear factor slightly when one of these spirits does show up wanting to harm the family, by showing us the point of view of people of people who are used to the odd spook or scare every now and then get really frightened.

This atmosphere is set-up really well from the film’s opening moments, a point of view exploration of the dusty and creaky house accompanied by plenty of high-pitched and uncomfortable whistles and chimes. We see a normal looking child’s room that’s given sinister undertones and then another dilapidated messy and cluttered room that’s chained shut. This was a very effective way to set-up the premise.

There’s a great use of location and setting in this film with the funeral home and the family’s home separated by a garden area. The grounds of the home are vast, but overrun, messy and uncontrolled giving the sense that the family is losing control, whereas the funeral home is neat, organised and tidy. Lighting is also used really well to differentiate and contrast the two with the house often being dark and dingy and the funeral home always being lit. The garden space is also mostly dark other than a motion activated light that is used for great effect.

The narrative is interesting enough, that this broken blended family are struggling with a malevolent spirt that stems from their sins, Bernardo is cheating on his wife with a spirit that is more attentive to him than her, in one of the film’s more particularly twisted elements and Estrella manufactured the events that led to Bernardo’s senile father being removed from the home behind her husband’s back and needs sleeping pills to sleep at night. Irina is stuck in between this clearly failing relationship and is every bit the rebellious, phone obsessed and emotionally unfulfilled teenager you’d expect.

All of this familial tension is quite interesting, but like the out-and-out horror moments and gore, they aren’t explored enough and ultimately peter out to make way for the underdeveloped finale. Bernardo’s father, vengeful at Estrella’s deceit leading to him being put into a home has arranged for a demon to kill her but the demon is hell-bent on killing everyone in the family, leading to them calling on the help of psychic medium Ramona (Susana Varela).  Unfortunately Ramona’s plans go wrong as a result of Irina’s teenage actions and the family is left defenceless.

The shift in point of view from the family as a whole to Irina as she discovers the aftermath of her selfish actions, particularly in the tense and really well carried out scene involving the coffins with each one being opened, and a great use of a portable toilet in the garden to make horror from noises and the unknown, is well done. But ultimately it falls short of being a satisfying climax to the build-up.

As a result Undertaker’s Home is a film that squanders slightly its tension building set-up and escalation as it seems to hold back slightly on providing satisfying moments of terror or gore for genre fans. It instead focusses on the restrained tensions of the family dynamic, forgoing a climactic slaughter for an emotionally charged but tonally inconsistent fantasy ballet scene to cap off the family’s final moments.

This choice to lean into a bitter-sweet emotional redemption for the family is admirable, but harms its horror credentials.  Still, an interesting premise, great set design, great acting and a plethora of spooky and creepy instances help to make Undertaker’s Home an exciting and accomplished debut feature from its director, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite deliver on the genius of its premise

For more reviews and interviews, check out our Fantasia Film Festival 2020 coverage here

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