Alejandro Cohen Arazi’s debut film The Unburied, was selected as part of the 2021 FrightFest lineup. Offering up a dive into a world of the occult built up through generations of carrying out grim tasks, the production seemed an ideal deviation into extreme cinema in the stellar 2021 selection of films.
What is it About?
“Psychiatrist Maximiliano has just published the book ‘Tribal Education’. As an orphan raised in a provincial foster home by a hard line patriarch his childhood memories have left scars he has been desperate to forget. But when he receives a call from a ‘brother’ who reveals their ‘father’ has died, he makes a life-changing decision to return home to deal with an unusual inheritance. But Maxi hasn’t seen any of his relatives for nearly two decades and when they tell him what he must now do for the family, the shocking past floods back with a sinister force. “
There is a turning point in the production, provoked by the image of an abomination, that transforms The Unburied into a shockingly uncomfortable experience in the ideal sense. An exercise in extremity, it is difficult to really reiterate just how morbid the film gets at its climax without spoiling the work itself. Ultimately, The Unburied unwinds in glorious fashion to an extreme, stomach-churning conclusion.
Dealing with a corrupt family lineage built on occult beliefs, the production drops subtle (and more overt) hints of abuse built over generations. Max is of a timid disposition and comes from a group home, hinting at experiencing, unfortunately, known depravities through systematic abuse of children tied to religion. Interestingly, the film uses flashbacks to show the dark rituals that caused Max to flee years prior and also traumatised him. Conversely, family members instead staying behind, who believed these esoteric beliefs to remain committed, also relate childhood stories that sound joyous despite the horrific subjects discussed. Brilliantly built up and explored in these sequences, the idea of a legacy behind dark magic seems feasible. The term “the sins of the father visited upon the children” has never felt this terrifyingly accurate.
The performances are well rounded throughout the family. Every family member has infiltrated trusted places in their country to manipulate Max into his ultimate duty to family. Police, business and religion are all led by his past ‘brothers’ and any attempt to appeal established institutions consequently falls short. Resulting in a sharp mental decline, the downfall of Max is inevitable when pushed by authority figures – nothing in his society is trustworthy. Arguably, Max’s entire life can be summed up as bending to corrupt authorities and his escape from family was only a brief reprise from an inevitable submission.
What Does Not Work?
The production is initially rough, and any positives to be taken away is almost entirely overridden by two instances which really push the boundaries of audience acceptance.
The first instance comes from footage shot at a slaughterhouse, applied as a way to trigger Max’s past memories of ritualistic murders. Effective yet unnecessary, the inherent shock of seeing animals killed and mutilated is a cheap way to elicit a reaction from audiences – one which is entirely unappreciated.
The second instance emerges from a sexual encounter in which Max’s mild mannered persona transitions into aggressive sexual domination. Hinting at a darker underlying persona in Max, choosing to manifest trauma through (consensual) sexual dominance is an off-putting choice. Ultimately, the removal of these two undesirable sequences would broaden the production appeal while not sacrificing any effective elements.
The Unburied sets itself a touch challenge by utilizing upsetting sequences to build character – a true challenge to engage audiences. However, once the film evolves from upsetting family drama into horror, it becomes a successfully executed piece of extreme horror. The last 20 minutes impart an unforgettable trip into terror, and audiences will want to wade through any tedium to get there.
Alejandro Cohen Arazi’s debut marks him an exciting prospect, though, if he ditches the unnecessary sensational imagery in his next endeavor. If you can endure such extremity, check this one out and it won’t disappoint!
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