My notes on La Funeraria (The Funeral Home)
Refreshingly, this Argentine ghost story – written and directed by Mauro Ivan Ojeda – doesn’t spend its first act on gradual manifestations and the erosion of disbelief. All three people living in a house adjacent to an undertaking parlour know that it’s haunted, and have done their best to come up with coping stratagems. The bathroom is so haunted that the family either pee in a bucket or use a portaloo in the yard when they need to use the toilet at night.
Unsurprisingly, the presence of spirits who range from mischievous to malign and are in the habit of leaving blunt notes around the place or messages on windows has exacerbated the scarcely-ideal relationship of undertaker Bernardo (Luis Machin), his wife Estela (Celeste Gerez) and Estela’s daughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini). Bernardo and Irina are both troubled by the presences of their dead fathers – who both have bad prior history with Estela – and Irina keeps threatening to run off to live with her grandmother (Graciela Bonomi), who might be a manipulative witch who’s always been set against her daughter-in-law, though to judge by the way Estela has issues with in-laws from both her marriages suggests that she’s not without culpability.
There’s enough family bother for a telenovela, but the soap never swamps the horror – and Ojeda stages a succession of unsettling, uncomfortable encounters with apparitions. Ramona (Susana Varela), the local exorcist, has been on the case throughout, though she realises that her initial diagnosis – that the ghosts were alarming but not dangerous – is wrong because a pact has been made with a demon who is more than capable of murdering the family. In an especially skillful bit of narrative, Ramona wanders through the house, sensing past incidents and putting together the story that has led up to the current state of affairs.
The trappings of the undertaking business are employed ominously, though there’s a dark humour in the use of coffins as planters for shrubs in the garden, and as much terror is experienced in the portaloo as among the caskets. When the demon possesses one of the key cast, the look of the killer is startling – instead of the oily eyes that have become a cliché recently, this demon gives its hosts oily skin and a feral snarl. There’s an affecting passage towards the end, involving a possible posthumous reconciliation and a rather magical dance number – but Ojeda is mostly interested in fraying the nerves with terror tactics.
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