Contrary to any rumors you may have heard along the publicity grapevine, the new release Burial, a war movie that details what happened to the dead body of Adolf Hitler at the end of World War II, is not a remake of the 1989 “bro” comedy Weekend at Bernie’s.
No, the German Nazi führer, leading architect of the worldwide conflict (1939-1945) that claimed some 70 million lives and ravaged large areas of the planet, did not in fact end up as an uninvited deceased guest at a party in Long Island’s Hamptons—although it is an intriguing prospect.
Instead, writer-director Ben Parker’s UK-produced adventure shows us that at the end of April, 1945, after Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, the dictator’s hastily cremated corpse was commandeered by a detachment of victorious Russian soldiers, with the intent of delivering the charred remains to Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in Moscow. That’s the plan, but in the movie there are military complications, and various narrative absurdities.
This film is not for history sticklers—in fact it’s hard to imagine exactly who its target audience might be. The leading character is Red Army Lt. Brana Brodskaya (British actor Charlotte Vega), a vigorous and determined female warrior whose own adventure she relates in flashback 46 years later, while living in London under the name Anna Marshall (Harriet Walter). Brana/Anna’s reminiscence is prompted by the news that a “New Russia” is opting out of the Cold War. Also along for the ride are actors Tom Felton, as a Polish partisan, and Kristjan Üksküla, as a rampaging SS officer.
After digging through the Berlin rubble in 1945 in a scavenger hunt for the guy responsible for 20 million Russian dead, Brana and her comrades are under orders to take Hitler’s decomposing corpse eastward, by truck down muddy roads to a Soviet base in Poznan, Poland, where it will be sent on via airplane to the Kremlin. The mission is to be kept top secret—Stalin has his usual dark political reasons for that. The traveling soldiers are warned to expect attacks along the way by the Werewolves, a fanatical group of holdout ultra-Nazi German commandos with plans to continue resisting Allied forces by keeping alive the fighting spirit—if not the actual living being—of their leader.
A few of the Werewolves wear furry suits and wolf masks in hopes of terrifying their enemies, but the only thing that storytelling strategy accomplishes is to turn the kidnapping of Hitler’s body—the actual historical facts of which are evidently still inconclusive, nearly 80 years later—into a nasty, nutsy combination of bloody war movie and silly horror flick. Essentially, the Germans pop out of the woods at night and pick off the Russians. As a Werewolf officer proclaims: “Death is nothing if the legacy lives on,” i.e., the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.
Burial may be a standard-brand war film, but it’s an extremely dumb horror item. The CGI battlescapes are not convincing and the characterizations are mostly what we’d expect from such “doomed Dada” (to borrow critic Andrew Sarris’ phrase) as the 1968 drive-in shockeroo They Saved Hitler’s Brain, in which Herr Schicklgruber’s stiff gets stashed in a Latin American lab, to await re-animation by a mad scientist. If Parker’s peculiar version of European history has any value at all, it’s to remind us once again that a masterpiece like Russian director Elem Klimov’s gruesome, vertiginous Eastern Front guignol Come and See (1985) should not be taken for granted.
The most vaguely interesting subplot point in Burial is the appearance, in the movie’s last scene, of a mysterious wooden box that Anna Marshall has kept in her London home since she escaped from the USSR—alongside her supply of hallucinogenic lichen-and-mushroom dust, a folkloric secret weapon. What else is in the magical box? We never find out. Maybe in the sequel.
In theaters and home video