Published Dec 01, 2002There's a scene in the new Canadian thriller The Burial Society that pretty much sums up the entire film. Fugitive loan officer Sheldon Kasner (Rob LaBelle) has infiltrated the nebbish-y ranks of the Chevrah Kadisha the mysterious coven of old men who ritualistically prepare the dead for Judaic burial and one of them instructs him on the proper cleaning of a body. "Press harder, and move down," he says, as the new recruit washes the corpse with a giant sponge as it lay immersed in water. As he slowly moves his hand over the stomach, a plume of brown excrement instantaneously explodes and commingles with the crystalline pool, and Sheldon struggles to hold back the bile churning in his stomach.
It's a potent mix of the sacred and profane, a line that writer/director Nick Racz manages to successfully straddle while making his audience just the right amount of queasy. Not only do the Kadisha offer Sheldon the perfect safe house for a man on the run from the Jewish mafia, they also afford him the opportunity to steal a fresh corpse to fake his own death. It all could have been a recipe for offensiveness, but the Chevrah Kadisha, buoyed by the dignified humanity of performances by Jan Rubes, Allan Rich and Bill Meilen, is treated with the appropriate reverence and awe. It's a fascinating world, and it would have been nice to see more of it. The only major complaint I have with The Burial Society is the performance of LaBelle, who possesses all the subtlety of Welcome Back, Kotter's Horshack mixed with healthy doses of a cranky David Schwimmer. Why no one thought of giving the role to supporting player David Paymer, a veteran character actor who deserves a juicy lead after all these years, is beyond reason.