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  • Writer's pictureK.B.O'Neil

The Burial unearths an ancient evil in this supernatural thriller.

A secret between estranged brothers snowballs into a battle of life in death against a powerful entity in The Burial. Available on digital and VOD Friday, March 3rd, 2023, from Terror Films and October Coast. Written and directed by Michael Escalante, whose film career began interning with the legendary Rodger Corman's New Horizons pictures. Staring Faith Kearns, Spencer Weitzel, Aaron Pyle, and Vernon Taylor.

Brian (Taylor) has taken a rare personal day, hoping to have a long relaxing weekend with his girlfriend, Molly (Kearns). A frantic phone call from Brian's estranged brother Keith (Weitzel) throws a wrench into the plans as he reluctantly agrees to come to his cabin. Determined to go alone due to Keith's struggles with Alcohol, Molly insists she comes along for support and to meet his family.

Keith is visibly shaken and on edge when the couple arrives but won't disclose why until dark. With tensions rising and a history of secrets that have caused a rift in their family, Brian will have to make a choice. Does he do what he knows is right, or once again cover for his brother, a past decision that has haunted him his whole life. Not knowing his actions could unleash a dormant darkness upon the trio.

The Burial, on the surface, is a family drama between brothers carrying deep, unhealed emotional wounds. Mixing the Supernatural, the backdrop focuses on the land that has seen its share of violence and pain that has been absorbed by the woods. The brothers awaken a dark energy that resides there, seeking a macabre justice. The lore that Escalante has created with the former gold rush town and its ghosts gives the story depth far more significant than what's presented. Given the budget restraints, there is a tell and not show aspect to the filmmaking, but through the writing and performance, we can fill in the details, imagining the once-thriving town and the corruption that gold has on men.

Morality and Honesty are pertinent subtexts throughout as well. Trust is a large part of the narrative, and when betrayed, there are severe consequences for those involved and those innocents who love them. For Molly, opening up and facing dilemmas as a team strengthens you; the burden isn't just on one person. It's clear when they listen to her she's on to something.

There are some generally effective chills, from missing items, doors opening independently, disembodied voices and figures lurking in the shadows. Handheld cameras put you in the scene with our characters, investigating bumps and whispers, just waiting for something to appear out of the darkness. One of my favorite shots is at night when the forest goes silent, and only a lantern lights the brothers. The camera pulls back further and further as the pair seems to shrink away in a sea of darkness. It's so effective at showing just how lost these two are in their environment and headspace.

Music also plays a large part in the mood of the Burial, and composers Ashlee Vaughn and Escalante opt for a more atmospheric over the traditionally melodic score. Recognizable instruments are woven into the sound, but many soundtracks mix voices, noise, and rhythmic beats to evoke discomfort as our characters break down. It’s very unique in its approach.

Faith Kearns, as Molly, signals co-dependent and paranoid in her introduction but ends up being the backbone of the story. Kearns plays Molly as someone who is genuine in her empathy and truly wants a relationship built on trust and openness. Where Molly could easily be played as a victim, she ultimately takes the movie on her shoulders and becomes the Ripley of The Burial. Even with a seemingly hopeless scenario in front of her, Molly is focused and prepared. Kearns steals the second half of this one.

Aaron Pyle literally bursts into the movie and takes over as Lenny. His introduction will have you glued to the screen. He chews the scenery, savoring every inflection and line of dialogue like he's having his last meal. He's charming and charismatic, threatening with every gesture and glance. The energy of the movie changes drastically with his arrival.

The Burial was shot on a shoestring budget with a small crew and cast of four. But the writing, performances, and locations make it feel like a much bigger production. Focusing more on the relationships between Molly and Brian and Brian and Keith, we build a foundation that has the audience invested well before the first drop of blood is spilled. Though most of the violence is mild in overall gore and reserved for the last third of the movie, it is impactful because it's not a random teen in the woods. It's someone we've spent the last few days getting to know, sympathizing with, and laughing with.

Michael Escalante crafted an engaging story, brought in a cast that delivered, and created something he can be proud of. It's a calling card for an up-and-coming filmmaker that will continue to grow in confidence, ability, and style. With such ambitious writing, I look forward to what we'll see when he's given more time and a budget to match his imagination; it will be memorable.

Available on digital and VOD Friday, March 3rd, 2023. Check out the trailer below.

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