Written by: Matt Patti | January 28th, 2021
The Funeral Home (Mauro Iván Ojeda, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars
With the loss of many close family members over the past decade, I’ve spent my fair share of time at funeral homes. Even while in mourning, I caught myself wondering how the lives of those who run such businesses work. Do they get mentally exhausted by the negative energy that surrounds them? Do both the living people in distress – and the potential spirits of those who have passed away – take a toll on the families who operate funeral homes? Or have they become numb and desensitized to the energy after years of experience? Director Mauro Iván Ojeda’s The Funeral Home explores a family that owns such a place. In this instance, the funeral parlor resides in the front half of the house; in the back half resides the family, along with numerous caskets full of dead bodies.
Bernardo, the patriarch, handles most of the responsibilities of the parlor while struggling to be in touch with his family. His wife, Estela, also lends a helping hand. Estela’s daughter and Bernardo’s stepdaughter, Irina, also lives in the house, though she is reluctant to help out with any task, as her relationship with Bernardo is strained. The living situation is less than ideal as spirits torment the house and certain sections, including the bathroom, are off-limits at night. Irina is frustrated and wants to leave. Estela explains that they cannot afford to move anywhere else and that having a place to stay is better than living out on the streets. Bernardo seems unaffected by the supernatural events, even attempting, at times, to contact some of the spirits, with little fear. Soon, however, events begin to take a turn for the worse, and the spirits get too close for comfort. As the family searches for answers, they begin to realize the spirits of the dead bodies might be the least of their worries as a darker presence emerges.
The family’s unfortunate lifestyle takes center stage in the film. Their terrifying circumstances, choosing whether to live in a haunted house or being homeless, is quite disturbing, and draws sympathy from the audience. The interesting question of what is more dangerous – the ghosts in their home or the potentially dangerous people they’ll encounter living out on the street – looms large and shows the gritty reality of the situation. Estela and Irina are tormented by ghosts who show up in their rooms at night while Bernardo attempts to contact and speak with some of the spirits. The disconnect causes much strife amongst the three and the relationships break down. This is the main conflict in the film and it is tragic and enthralling to see.
The film is able to build much suspense through elongated sequences in the house at night, aided by exceptional cinematography and an eerie soundtrack. Nevertheless, the soundtrack gets a bit overbearing at times and is overused in some moments. Also, while suspense builds well, it never truly comes to a head. The film is lacking in genuinely scary moments and creepy imagery, as we mainly see only small glimpses of the spirits and rarely see their features. Even in the film’s most intense scenes, the viewer is not left with a strong feeling of fear. Some other issues include plot points that do not add up in the end and some seemingly important story threads that lead nowhere.
Overall, though, even with its issues, The Funeral Home is still an intriguing case study of a struggling family in a horrifying situation, though the situation could have been portrayed in a more terrifying way. The film still contains some eerie moments and shows what the supernatural, and hard times, can do to break apart a family, making it a compelling watch. This film makes me once again ask myself an age-old question I’ve always pondered: what’s more terrifying: the living or the supernatural?