It’s 1861, and a murder has taken place in a small Western town. A sheriff is on the trail, looking for answers — especially since the victim was his brother, Harvey.
He decides to pay a visit to his former sister-in-law Ingrid, a German immigrant living with a widow named Sophie and her young son Charlie. The sheriff suspects Ingrid of being involved with the murder. But the interrogation turns into a complex game of mental chess, with dangerously high stakes.
Directed by Charlene Bagcal from a script written by lead actors Ellie Araiza and Jul Kohler, this slow burn of a short Western drama is essentially an interrogation scene. But with richly layered dialogue and finely drawn characters, it becomes a portrait of staying true to what you believe in when faced with danger, especially to protect what you love.
One of the standards of the Western genre is an emphasis on landscape and environment, and this short establishes its genre bona-fides with an impressive set of visuals. Gorgeous cinematography emphasizes the desolate, bare landscape around the two women’s home, and elegant, dynamic camera movements are both captivating and anxious. Beyond being beautifully crafted, the look and feel also emphasize just how remote, isolated and vulnerable the two women are.
Within this landscape, the sheriff arrives, bringing with him a certain tension and edginess. The trio of characters settle in for a friendly chat that is anything but, as the sheriff tries to fish information out of them. Ingrid unravels a dark, somber tale, full of intrigue and death. But as the scene progresses, there’s much more to the story, and the household will stop at nothing to protect it.
“Bury Me Not” pays faithful tribute to the preoccupations and mores of the Western genre, with its themes of justice, morality and power. Westerns have played a role in building up the iconography of traditional Americana, and the film gracefully adds its contribution to iconic gunfights and vigilante justice, rendering its story with cinematic yet intimate panache and making for a tense and suspenseful ending.
But by emphasizing the story of the women, “Bury Me Not” also reminds us of those who traditional stories often leave out or relegate to supporting roles. It also makes the case that expanding the cast of characters at the center of Western storytelling can invigorate the time-worn genre. Storytellers can still weave compelling narratives of violence, survival and suspense — but with a fresh perspective, renewed vigor and perhaps even more unexpected twists.