Argentina film

Fantasia Review: The Undertaker’s Home

An undertaker, his wife, and his stepdaughter live in the home behind his business. This dysfunctional family is plagued by spirits of the dead who have come through the mortuary. They seek out spiritual guidance to protect themselves and soon learn the horrifying truth behind their ghostly inhabitants.

All the way from Argentina, Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences a twisted supernatural ride. The Undertaker’s Home is the film debut of writer and director Mauro Iván Ojeda. When we are first introduced to the undertaker and his family, they already have precautions in place so they can live side-by-side with the spirits in their home. Each of them reacts differently to the ghosts and it is these differences that gradually reveal the cracks dividing this family unit. Things eventually get worse and they are forced to seek further help to coexist with the spirits, but they learn there is something far more sinister lurking in the dark. What is interesting about the film is how we are thrown in the middle of the haunting. They have clearly lived here for a long time and already sought help.

From there we dive into the undertaker, his wife, and his stepdaughter individually. They all have different reasons for staying in the home and react very differently to the ghosts. While it is fascinating and I wish it was the primary focus of the film, it instead detracts from the film as a whole because there is no clear single plot driving the film forward. It isn’t until the last act of the film that some semblance of that driving force is introduced, but it feels far too late for it to really add weight to what the audience just watched. The final moments also add a sentimentality that is absent from the rest of the film, making it come across as forced and awkward.

All of the performances in The Undertaker’s Home are well done, but they don’t incite the intended emotional reaction. This is likely more to do with how the characters were written rather than the performances of the individual actors. Luis Machín (Necrophobia 3D, Cain y Abel) plays the undertaker, Bernardo. His character has the most interesting relationship with the spirits, seeming to use them for his own personal fulfillment. Machín plays Bernardo quite well and makes the character both sympathetic and pathetic all at once. Celeste Gerez (Historias de diván, La venganza de Ambar) plays the wife, Estela. Estela clearly has had a difficult life. Gerez’s performance shows how detached she has become to her loved ones, even her daughter, because of that past. Finally we have Camila Vaccarini (Paisaje) as Estela’s daughter, Irina. Right away it is clear that Irina doesn’t want to live with her mother and stepfather, but she stays in the house in hopes of seeing one specific spirit in the home. Vaccarini’s performance is definitely a standout, especially in the final act of the film as the family attempts to rid themselves of the evil.

The filmmakers make an interesting choice to not show much of the spirits within the home. Instead, The Undertaker’s Home relies on different visuals to imply the presence of ghosts. Most immediately obvious is a red line that seems to divide the spaces meant for the family vs meant for the ghosts. The family’s side is clean and tidy, while the ghost side is left to collect dust and trash. It’s a surprisingly strong visual aid that allows the audience to constantly feel as though something is waiting just on the other side of the line. We only see the strongest of ghosts in a physical form, but even then they are primarily in shadow and never completely visible, maintaining their mystery.

The Undertaker’s Home creates an interesting premise, but it fails to follow through with a cohesive plot. For a feature-film debut, this is still quite a strong start for Ojeda as it shows quite a bit of potential that could benefit from just a bit more finesse. The idea there and the performances are strong even if the characters aren’t fully realized. While I don’t love the film, I enjoyed elements of it enough that I am quite interested to see what Ojeda does in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10