There is a really great plot idea in Burial: In 1945, at the tail-end of World War II, a small band of Soviet soldiers is tasked with secretly hauling Hitler’s body across Poland where it will be put on a train to Moscow. Their great leader, Stalin, wants to see with his own eyes that his enemy is dead. But as they slowly move across the warn-torn land, with the soldiers on foot accompanying a flatbed truck with a roughly-hewn “crate” with the body, there are remnants of Nazi sympathizers/true believers dubbed “Werwulf” (German for werewolves) hiding in the forest, wanting to intercept them.
See? Great on paper. It could have been a bloody exploitation film, or it could have easily gone with a supernatural bent, playing on the werewolf idea (which I was hoping). Instead it plays a little bit with both, neither particularly well, while trying to pass itself off a serious war film.
The Soviet soldiers are led by Brana (Charlotte Vega), a vigilant officer with one goal: to complete the mission. She is surrounded by a gaggle of stereotypes, from the rapey solider who disrespects authority (Dan Renton Skinner), to the earnest boy soldier (Bill Milner), to the good guy with a dark past (Barry Ward) who is called Tor (Thor) for having killed a man with a hammer. When these soldiers first encounter the werewolves, it is indeed creepy and mysterious, until the Nazi-sympathizers are revealed as just that, and they become brutal stereotypes.
The film overall looks great, and has an effective soundtrack. Though provided thin character development, the actors do their best. The story even throws in a sympathetic local Pole, played by Tom Felton, who is aging nicely into his sad-eyed, weathered look of a man who has Seen Things (and thusly seems to be cast in WWII movies lately, like the very good Dutch film on Netflix, The Forgotten Battle).
But there is also a lot of mess here. The Soviets and the Germans/Poles all speak English in any given scene, with a mish-mash of pan-European, British-leaning accents. When the cultures face off and supposedly don’t speak the same language, one will just respond suddenly in broken, halting English (Or is it supposed to be Russian? Or German?). It’s just weird and confusing. Also, when the werewolves show up, other than a guy wearing wolfy pelts, there is nothing to visually to distinguish them from the locals or the Soviets, for that matter. Until they are literally shooting at/stabbing each other, it’s hard to tell who is on whose side.
Burial is a frustrating film, as it had (and has) so much potential. It’s one of those stories that is so weird that you wonder immediately if it was based on something true (it’s not). The much-pondered myth of what really happened to Hitler’s body is so intriguing that Burial even plays with that lore. The film is bookended with scenes of an elderly Brana (Harriet Walter, making the most with a few minutes) dealing with a Neo-Nazi breaking into her home to find out the “true” story of what happened to Hitler’s body. The fictional Burial won’t provide any answers, but I wish it played more creatively with the questions.