The Funeral Home, “La Funeraria” in its native tongue, is a gloomy and moody Argentinian haunted house tale. Written and directed by Mauro Iván Ojeda, the film pervades both its atmosphere and characters with gloom and moodiness. The titular domicile is the home and business of undertaker Bernardo (Luis Machín, “The Moneychanger”), a man crushed under the grief and regret of his profession. Sharing his home (though the business is kept separate) are his wife Estela (Celeste Gerez) and her daughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini). This central trio snipe at each other regularly, their family dinners likely be familiar to anyone with strained family relations.
The fractures of this family may be familiar, but they are also distinct. As mentioned, Bernardo has trouble separating the somberness of his work from his homelife. Estela is deeply troubled by a previous abusive relationship, but Irina is strongly attached to the memory of her deceased father and openly resents Bernardo. Focused on her smart phone and wishing to leave, Irina is a familiar teenager, although as becomes clear, the family situation is not altogether every day.
A painted red line through the middle of the garden and parts of the house indicates that the family are not alone, but interestingly, the haunting is something expected and accepted. The ghosts of Bernardo’s clients haunt the premises and the family have learned to live with them. Ojeda ties this haunting closely to domesticity, including gifts for the ghosts, messages on fogged windows, and the family’s personal hygiene. Buckets in bedrooms as well as a portable toilet in the garden indicate the allowances they have to make for their disembodied houseguests, which make some of the resentments among Irina and Estela understandable. Then something else starts threatening them, the film employing a different type of dread to communicate this new danger.
Many a ghost story, such as the recent “Relic,” “The Banishing” as well as “The Sixth Sense,” “The Others” and “The Orphanage,” use the device of wide angles to capture something unexpected or out of place in the frame. The Funeral Home uses this technique as well, and also that of objects appearing from darkened spaces. Combining haunted house tropes with those of possession, sometimes a door opens and nothing emerges; other times a clearly inhuman hand makes an appearance. Close-ups of red eyes add to the creeping horror as the space becomes ever more menacing.
In its parts, the film is fine. It does the job, it unsettles, it has some jump scares, there is some gore; overall it works. However, it is rather one note. Ojeda relies to a great extent on tracking shots through the dark house, shadows and shapes suggesting malevolence, as well as a recurring device of chickens running back and forth. The trouble is, that’s about it, and the moody visuals do become somewhat repetitive. The late addition of another character feels forced, while flashbacks presenting Bernardo’s relationship with his father add little to the drama. Worse, the ending is very strange and feels not of a piece with the rest of the film. When potentially shocking events take place, there has been insufficient dramatic weight to make them effective. More variety might have increased the suspense and allowed a greater sense of peril. Still, as a debut The Funeral Home shows plenty of potential for Ojeda, and hopefully we will see more from him in the future.