What is The Mortuary Collection about?
In the phantasmagorical town of Raven’s End, nothing is as it seems… A misguided young girl (Caitlin Custer) takes refuge in a decrepit old mortuary. There she meets Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown), an eccentric undertaker with more than a few skeletons in his closet. Montgomery chronicles the strange history of the town through a series of twisted tales, each more terrifying than the last, but the young girl’s world is unhinged when she discovers that the final story… is her own.
RELATED: 8 Movies in 7 Days: How I Spent My Shudder Vacation
The Mortuary Collection Review
I usually find anthologies a little difficult to review, most often because each story within feels so much like its own thing that it feels wrong to judge each as merely part of the whole (or, viceversa, to judge the whole for each piece). That isn’t the case for me with The Mortuary Collection.
While the stories within are certainly each their own distinct part of the story, they don’t feel wholly separate from it but rather as simply another scene within the plot. Compared to many anthologies this is a complete story that happens to be made up of smaller stories, even if they do not directly impact the main narrative thread that strings them together (at least not in a major or obvious way).
I place this strength of structure on a few key elements. Foremost is cinematography; this is a film that has a look chosen and it stays consistent with it. Each story has their own little changes to how things are shot (for example the first sub-story has the character almost always in the centre of the frame while the second utilises more Dutch angles), but these are minor shifts to a style that remains otherwise entirely consistent throughout.
The repeated appearance of the same character (portrayed by Mike C. Nelson) also helps tie it all together and help with a sense of place for the story. Finally, and perhaps the most impressive to me, is the pacing of the entire film. Where most anthology films fail in pacing, due to each story within having its own, The Mortuary Collection, largely does not and has a real natural flow as it moves in and out of the stories.
This isn’t to say the film’s pacing is without issue, it certainly isn’t perfect. Particularly during the second story the fairly long run-time (one hour and forty-eight minutes) started to feel like a possible problem as the story started to run a little long, and was noticeably much longer than the story that preceded it. Once this particular story found its momentum once more this issue did fade for me and didn’t really occur to me again until the very end, where the climax felt a little more drawn out than necessary.
Not that I can fully fault the film for it as having it too short also would have felt weak given the stories that came before, and my feelings may even be influenced by the fact I expected a slightly different direction.
RELATED: Raising the Dead with the Mortuary Assistant’s Brian Clarke (Interview)
The Mortuary Collection does play a lot with expectation, and does so with some mixed results. Each story will likely go in a slightly different direction to what is expected, but, as Custer’s character Sam points out, they are all rather predictable. My first thought was that this commentary on the stories weakens them by pointing out the flaws, yet in retrospect I think that it helps them. There’s certainly still issues with it as a narrative technique, but the film putting focus on predictability allows it to better play with expectation within the larger narrative.
For the most part the cast give good performances throughout, with me having issues more with particular moments rather than as a rule. Clancy Brown is likely the most memorable of the performances, which makes sense given that his character of the mortician Montgomery gives him a great chance to ham it up and play with it. Though I definitely won’t discredit Caitlin Custer who gives her character Sam a rather charismatic performance with some morbid curiosity, or Ema Horvath’s role within her story where she portrays a shy yet playful young woman in a way that feels like a whole rather than a contradiction.
I also feel I need to make a particular note on the production value, which is much stronger than I initially gave it credit at the start. A lot of work has been put into set dressing and giving the film a look, one that is necessary to give off the dark fantasy, almost fairy-tale, atmosphere that helps make every story feel as though it could easily be in the same world.
I was also impressed by the amount of practical effects used throughout and how good they looked. Again somewhere where the style of the film helped as any that may not have been ‘perfect’ suited the tone. The few pieces of CGI used, more towards the end, are also well utilised alongside practical effects and effective lighting to get the best usage.
Evidently this film is unrated in the US (as far as I can find) while it has an R18+ in Australia. While the film certainly has the moments that earn this, the second story in particular has a major one, it surprised me by how overall restrained the film was in many regards. While I did feel it seemed to prioritise spectacle over any real emotional weight, it also never felt overly gratuitous even in the moments it very much started to cross that line. I was also surprised by the lack of swearing throughout, which I might have expected, and overall I feel that restraint also helps with the dark fantasy feel of the entire film.
The Mortuary Collection Overall
While The Mortuary Collection isn’t a film I feel will be enjoyed by those looking for cheap scares, it is definitely one I recommend for any who think of themselves as horror fans. A good first feature film from director Ryan Spindell, and one that made a lot of sense when I noticed his directorial credits previous have all largely been short films (including at least one that became part of this film).
This is a movie for those who can appreciate good production and a strong focus. It may not all be exactly what you want or expect, but it all comes together to tell a story about stories that should keep you invested if only to learn where it is all going.
What did you think of The Mortuary Collection?
The Mortuary Collection is available to watch online at Shudder or through AMC+.
What do you think of The Mortuary Collection?
Let us know on social media!