Burial is a film that had me hooked as soon as I read the description for it: a group of Russian soldiers attempt to transport Hitler’s body out of Germany at the end of World War II, but are ambushed by a group of Nazi werewolves. That’s the kind of blurb that gets you super excited for a movie. However, I’m not sure if it’s an intentional bit of subterfuge or me not reading things closely, but this is not a movie about werewolves or the supernatural at all.
Burial begins in the winter of 1991, as an elderly woman, Anna Marshall (Harriet Walter) watches news that the Soviet Union has officially come to an end. That same night a man breaks into her home, but Anna seems to be prepared for potential break-ins, and knocks the man out with a taser. When he comes to, the burglar finds himself cuffed to a radiator, and Anna tells him that she understands he’s a Neo-Nazi thanks to his tattoos, and asks why he’s there. The man demands Anna tell him the truth of what happened at the end of the war.
Anna obliges, giving us all a flashback to the fall of Berlin, and a young Anna, here called by her birth name, Brana Vasilyeve (Charlotte Vega), who has been ordered to transport a crate to Moscow, where Stalin will receive the contents. Only three of the group knows what’s inside the crate, but it’s clearly implied to be the body of Hitler. Forced to make the journey across country, the small group of soldiers comes under attack from Werewolves. Not supernatural entities, but the very real group of German guerrilla fighters that plagued Soviet soldiers at the end of the war. The Werewolves know what the group are transporting, and become determined to get it back.
Burial is not a horror film, but is a tense historical action thriller, that gives viewers a potential scenario as to what happened to Hitler at the end of the war. There have been many conflicting theories and conspiracies around the death of Adolf Hitler over the years, and whilst there’s strong evidence and eyewitness accounts that the man killed himself, and that his body was burnt in Berlin, there are still some who believe his body was whisked away (as this film depicts), or that his death was staged.
In this film Hitler is very much dead, and there’s never really any mystery around the contents of the box the Soviet soldiers are guarding. The film goes out of its way to try and confirm that it is indeed him, with statements about his dental records having been used to confirm his identity. But that’s not what this film is about. Instead, it becomes a kind of examination of the power of unwavering belief from those who followed the man, as well as the power of propaganda.
Stalin wants the body, both to look his enemy in the eye and know for sure that he is indeed dead, and also because he wants to use it as an object of power. He wants to show the world that Hitler is dead, and it is him and his nation that have the body. It would spur on Stalin’s supporters, and help to show the world that the Soviet Union is a power not to be trifled with. On the other side of this there are the Werewolves, who know all of this, and who want to stop it. But they don’t just want to prevent Stalin having his win, they want to prove to the world that the body is not their Fuhrer, but a fake. They want to use it as evidence that Hitler is still alive, to rally their own side, in some vain, last attempt to try to claw their way back from defeat by the Allied Powers.
And in the middle of it all there is a small group of Soviet soldiers who just want to go home. Brana is one of the only members of the group who actually seems to care about the mission, who takes it seriously and understands the implications of it all, whilst the others just want to celebrate the end of the war and go back to their lives. This worn down and tired group end up having to fight for their lives against enemies that outnumber them, use unconventional tactics, know the land, and fight with a fervour that they can’t match.
The scenes where the two sides clash are brutal, and the film doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of war, the evil that people are capable of, and the toll that fighting has upon people. The action scenes are competently shot, and whilst they’re never big in scale they keep you invested thanks to the tighter focus on characters, and the grittiness of the blood and gore flying as bullets rip through people keeps it fairly grounded. There are no action heroes in this film, just desperate people fighting as best they can.
The film also features Tom Felton in one of his better roles in a long while as a man who was forced into fighting on the Nazi side in order to save his family, yet lost them anyway. Essentially a target to all sides, a man who has nothing left to live for, he’s given a surprising amount of warmth and sense of hope that is often missing from these kinds of archetypes. He becomes a decent companion to Brana, and makes for a strong secondary protagonist that shows another side to the war and the crimes of the Nazis.
Writer/director Ben Parker does a decent job at crafting an interesting and engaging story with its feet firmly planted within reality. There’s nothing that happens here that couldn’t have happened in our own history. There’s nothing that feels over-the-top or too ridiculous, and this sense of realness works in the film’s favour. Perhaps the only real weakness is that other than one or two of the characters you don’t really get to know anyone, and some of the deaths and interactions have less weight because you don’t really have connections to them. Some more scenes with these characters would have helped with this, but as it stands it’s still a decent movie that will entertain.
Burial is out on Digital release on 26th September. Early EST on Sky, iTunes and Amazon from 12th September.