Starring Alexandra Daddario, Michael Biehn, Brett Rickaby, Spencer List, Nolan Gerard Funk, Peyton List, John Savage, Kathryn Meisle, Ashley Wolfe, Greg Wood, Tom McNutt, Jonathan Walker, Jamie Farrell, Shannon Lambert-Ryan and Matthew Mindler.
Screenplay by Stevan Mena.
Directed by Stevan Mena.
Distributed by Crimson Films. 107 minutes. Not Rated.
Bereavement unblinkingly takes on a very disturbing and potentially toxic plot thread – an autistic boy is kidnapped by a psychopath and taught the ways of serial killing. It’s a shocking conceit and one that could be called exploitative, yet the film is so well-made (for a horror film) and the more questionable scenes are mostly handled as tastefully as possible, in context. Therefore, the movie does not give off a creepy sense of being made just to be sensational.
The bare bones of the plot are pretty standard in the horror genre – psycho man kidnaps women and tortures and kills them in a filthy, secluded lair. One beautiful woman becomes his most recent victim and must try desperately to escape the trap she finds herself in. We’ve all seen variations on this, but it is to writer/director Stevan Mena’s credit that because of his innovative visual sense and somewhat deeper-than-normal characterizations, Bereavement usually does not feel stale even when its ideas are not exactly fresh.
Bereavement is a prequel to Mena’s 2004 shocker Malevolent – a film that I have to admit I had never heard of before, though I am not exactly up on horror, so it may well be very respected in that world. Apparently that film takes place years later when that little boy has grown up to be the mad serial killer himself.
However, in this genesis story, the boy is mostly simply observing the carnage. Bereavement introduces us to him as a six-year-old child who needs constant care – not only because he is autistic and does not speak, but also because he has a rare condition in which he cannot feel any pain. He is snatched out of his own backyard – never to be seen again by his family.
His kidnapper is Sutter (Brett Rickaby) – the deranged owner of a long-closed slaughterhouse. Five years later he and his “son” are living in the filthy compound deep in the sticks, periodically kidnapping women and chaining them up – supposedly to save them. However, when the women disappoint him – and they inevitably do – Sutter sends them back to their maker. All the while, the boy silently and horrifiedly witnesses the carnage.
Honestly, Sutter is the least interesting character here, a horror movie near-cliché of the crazed, religious, homicidal loner who is being told to kill by voices in his head (and stifle a laugh, if you can, when the power he prays to turns out to be a scarecrow with the skull of a steer). It is never quite explained why Sutter felt the need to take on his unwilling apprentice – mass murder gets lonely, I suppose.
In the meantime we are introduced to Allison (Alexandra Daddario of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Hall Pass), a moody and rebellious (but mostly nice) 17-year-old who has to move to the country and live with her uncle (Michael Biehn ofThe Terminator and Aliens) after her parents are killed in an automobile accident.
Allison, who grew up in the city, hates the slow life in the small town. The only good parts she finds to her situation are that there is plenty of room to run (she’s a marathoner) and there is a really cute guy who lives a couple of miles down the way. Then, one day when she’s out for a jog, she notices the mysterious little boy peering out of a broken window in that spooky and abandoned-looking building.
Oh, yeah, I think we know where this is heading.
However, it is to Bereavement’s credit that even though it seems to be going in certain kinds of standard directions, the movie actually does have some interesting little tricks up its sleeve. Yes, it is in some ways beholden to the limitations of its genre, but in other ways it is trying to stretch them as well.
Also, for a storyline which would not necessarily seem to be an actor’s showcase, Mena is able to coax some interesting performances from his quirky cast, a mix of new faces and grizzled old vets. Daddario shows the beauty and talent which would lead her to get roles in the above-mentioned big-budget blockbusters (Bereavement was actually filmed a few years ago, before either of those roles.) Nolan Gerard Funk is also good in his limited role as the cute country boy. And the old school actors – Biehn as Allison’s compassionate-but-overprotective uncle and John Savage as the hunky boy’s crazy, wheel-chair-bound daddy – make big impressions in their limited screen time.
In the end, it seems perhaps that Mena’s skill as a filmmaker outstrips his skill as a screenwriter. For a film that is often so dim and murky, Bereavement has a wonderfully artistic look and Mena is able to create some truly impressive shots for such a low-budget indie. Sometimes it is hard not to wish that this savvy director’s eye was pointed at a less low-brow story.
However, as trashy chillers go, Bereavement is better than expected – and better than most.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2011.