'Just Buried'

Bloody and irredeemably misanthropic, Canadian funeral farce "Just Buried" nonetheless has enough charm to make for a sporadically enjoyable if wildly uneven entry in the growing body of cheeky corpse comedies initiated by Hitchcock's "The Trouble With Harry."

Bloody and irredeemably misanthropic, Canadian funeral farce “Just Buried” nonetheless has enough charm to make for a sporadically enjoyable if wildly uneven entry in the growing body of cheeky corpse comedies initiated by Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry.” First-time feature director Chaz Thorne has yet to master the delicate touch good dark comedy requires, yet he exhibits a distinctive sensibility that suggests better things to come. U.S. box office should be marginal (pic opened for a limited run Oct. 31), but niche homevid promises better returns.

Summoned to a sleepy small town to attend his father’s funeral, ne’er-do-well nebbish Oliver Whynacht (Jay Baruchel) subsequently learns he’s inherited the family mortuary business, much to the dismay of his father’s boozy trophy widow (Reagan Pasternak) and the mortuary’s embalmer, viscera-fixated Roberta (Rose Byrne).  With his father’s ledger deep in the red (a fire having destroyed the nearby retirement home, taking with it the mortuary’s most reliable clientele), Oliver initially plans to sell the business, though he finds himself drawn to Roberta, eventually taking her out for a drink.

Driving home drunk that night, Oliver hits and kills a passing Swiss night-hiker, an act of manslaughter Roberta unhesitatingly covers up, primarily to provide the funeral home with a rare paying customer. Maintaining this cover-up inevitably engenders further murders, boosting the bottom line and emboldening the Machiavellian Roberta, who goads Oliver into eliminating the competition, as well.

Pic was lensed in Nova Scotia, and its unique sense of place is perhaps its most defining feature, although Thorne overloads his unnamed town with so many quirky characters that it threatens to sag into caricature (see above, “passing Swiss night-hiker”). At times he also tries so hard to create a kooky, slap-happy tone that the crueler gags strike a discordant note. Yet when he succeeds, he reveals a nascent subversiveness one hopes will flower further in years to come. His coup involves a shockingly gruesome murder, which ingeniously sets up the film’s biggest, darkest laugh a few scenes later.

The film’s primary problem is protag Oliver, who is saddled with excessive, distracting neuroses — character’s constant nosebleeds rep the least successful, most repeated running gag — and misplayed by Baruchel with such sour-faced wretchedness that he emerges as even less likable than he was probably intended to be. Byrne fares better as a lasciviously macabre Lady Macbeth, but the film’s real standouts are Graham Greene, deadpan bit-parter par excellence, and Christopher Shore, in a much too brief turn as Oliver’s faux-pious competitor.

Tech credits are capably handled, and Darren Fung’s prominent score lends pic a sense of ironic cheerfulness.

Just Buried

Canada

Production

A Liberation Entertainment/Emerging Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Trilogy Entertainment North and Standing 8 production, in association with Telefilm Canada and RGM Entertainment. Produced by Pen Densham, Bill Niven, Chaz Thorne, John Watson. Executive producers, Devesh Chetty, Neil Kaplan. Directed, written by Chaz Thorne.

Crew

Camera (color), Christopher Porter; editor, Christopher Cooper; music, Darren Fung; production designer, Bill Fleming; costume designer, Kate Rose; associate producers, Jeff Coll, Nevin Densham. Reviewed on DVD, Oct. 29, 2008. (In 2007 Toronto Film Festival -- Canada First!) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Jay Baruchel, Rose Byrne, Graham Greene, Nigel Bennett, Thomas Gibson, Sergio DiZio, Reagan Pasternak, Slavko Negulic, Jeremy Akerman, Brian Downey, Christopher Shore.

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