The Distracted Critic: BEREAVEMENT (2010)
Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic
Rarely do I watch a movie in one sitting anymore. Too often my interest wanes and I find myself wandering away to do something else. In addition to doling out movie ratings, I’ll also tell you how many times a movie lost my interest during its running time. —The Distracted Critic
I’m finding that there are two halves to my psychology when it comes to rating movies. First, it’s pretty easy to tell what a film is intended to be. Based on that, it’s easy to tell whether it surpassed its goal, achieved it, fell short, or failed miserably. Second, no matter how hard I try to go in with an open mind, I always have an expectation of how a movie’s going to affect me, be it based on a trailer, on overheard comments, or on what I hope to experience based on my mood that day. Critique germinates in the gap between expectation and experience.
In the case of BEREAVEMENT (2010), I remembered being impressed with director Stevan Mena’s style and workmanship on his first feature, MALEVOLENCE (2004), and I expected to be wowed again. I was. To a point.
BEREAVEMENT is a prequel to MALEVOLENCE. It starts creepily enough, with six-year-old Martin Bristol playing on his backyard swing, when a rusty old truck pulls to a stop in front of him. His mother, meanwhile, is explaining to a potential aide that her son has CIP, a rare condition that prevents him from recognizing pain. When next she looks outside, the boy is gone.
We see a girl chained to the ceiling in a dark basement. She’s obviously been there a while. A figure lugs in a burlap sack, puts it down and opens the top. Inside, Martin blinks and looks around, seemingly unafraid. The dark figure cuts Martin deeply along one cheek to show him that knives don’t hurt, and then begins stabbing the dangling girl while she screams. Martin runs, and is caught.
Five years later.
A waitress from a local diner is abducted and chained up by her wrists in the same dark cellar as before. On the other side of a makeshift wall, another girl hangs, insisting that there’s no escape and they will be killed.
A man in a pick-up truck, Michael Beihn (ALIENS, 1986 and GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR, 2007) picks up a gorgeous girl in the middle of nowhere. We learn this is his niece, Allison (Alexandra Daddario, who plays Annabeth Chase in the PERCY JACKSON movie series, both THE LIGHTNING THIEF in 2010 and the upcoming SEA OF MONSTERS due in 2013), and she’s coming to live with his family. She’s a long distance runner from Chicago, shunted to the middle of nowhere, and the school doesn’t have a girl’s track team. She goes for a run, passes a creepy abandoned building and sees the scarred Martin Bristol in a window. He bolts. A little further on, she’s almost run over by a truck. She’s helped up and cared for by William (Nolan Gerard Funk, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012), a local boy her own age that you just know is going to be loathed by her uncle. We learn that Allison’s parents were killed when an SUV blew a stop sign.
“It’s funny how everything can change in an instant,” she tells William at one point, summing up the gist of the film. “A stranger can come along and in the blink of an eye just destroy everything.”
Meanwhile, Martin Bristol is still refusing to help his captor and even unties the girl from the diner at one point to watch her run about, looking for an escape.
Because this movie is a prequel, it’s pretty obvious where it’s heading. It’s a grim tale, brutal throughout. In other words, it’s not called BEREAVEMENT for nothing.
Like in MALEVOLENCE, Mena’s use of the camera, or more importantly his use of light and shadow to create atmosphere, is impressive. He balances the story elements well, interspersing scenes of violence with clashes of will between Allison and Uncle John. There’s a cameo appearance by the great John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER, 1978; HAIR, 1979 and according to IMDB he has worked on 17 projects for 2012 &13).
Martin Bristol’s kidnapper is revealed a little ways into the movie. A small man named Graham Sutter, sporting wild hair and crazy eyes who looks fragile as a baby bird; he’s played by Brett Rickaby (THE CRAZIES, 2010), with a lunatic intensity that frankly seems over-the-top.
BEREAVEMENT wants to fit on the top shelf of brutal killer movies. It’s got tones of BORDERLAND (2007), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), WOLF CREEK (2005), and many other vicious “torture-porn” films. But as Graham Sutter’s one-sided dialogues with the skulls of steer increase in frequency and insanity, his effectiveness as a person to be feared fades away. There’s a fine line between “insane” and “loopy.” Leatherface wouldn’t have been as effective if he’d talked in a high falsetto, and Mick Taylor of WOLF CREEK wouldn’t have been as formidable had he held conversations with a sock puppet. Graham’s lunatic quirk detracts from the grief-stricken tone of the film, and for me personally it broke the spell of the movie. Once that happened, the questions started coming.
What does this guy eat? How do other people react when he walks into a store? Does he pay his electric bill by check? Drawn from what bank? How does he make money to live if the abattoir he owns has been closed so long? How does he care for a six year old with such a serious medical condition? How has Martin Bristol survived in that deathtrap for five years without a single injury or infection? With the frequency that Graham kidnaps girls in town, how is he never investigated, let alone besieged by townsfolk brandishing torches and pitchforks?
I’ll stop there. You get the idea.
In all, it’s a well-made movie, very effective in places, and it held my attention until Graham went cukoo toward the end. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did MALEVOLENCE, which made me want to go back and reassess that one.
I think I will do just that. Stay tuned.
BEREAVEMENT: Two stars, with a single time out.
© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon