Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Review : Bereavement (2010)



Stevan Mena

The horrific account of 6 year old Martin Bristol, abducted from his backyard swing and forced to witness the brutal crimes of a deranged madman. 

Just take a look at the BEREAVEMENT one-sheet. Is it any wonder I was excited to see this bad boy? Its a startling image, and it caught my attention and fueled my imagination on sight. That was a year ago. I had no idea the film was a prequel to a well respected low-budget slasher by the same writer/director until I decided to give it a whirl. The original, MALEVOLENCE, tells the tale of a serial killer who is impervious to pain. He can't feel it, period. You could cut this guys nuts off while averting his eyes and he'd be none the wiser, (although if you were in his vicinity, you'd probably most likely be dead or dying, and the only nuts getting chopped off would be your own). Its a cool slice of reasoning for why our slashers just keep getting back up, and I wish I'd heard of the film earlier, because frankly, it sounds pretty fine.

Rest assured though, that if you haven't seen the original, your still going to have a good time with BEREAVEMENT. As an origin story, it fulfills its duty whether your in on the folklore or not. Its a no lose situation. If you've seen the original, you get the desired insight into why this guy became so damn malevolent in the first place. If your new to the franchise, you get a somewhat surprising, and often original look at the making of a killer, and crucially, you'll probably be itching to see the kid grown up the original/sequel. Can't really go wrong, guys.

Everyone likes a good folk tale, and this one's a beaut. You have a kid who can't feel pain, being abducted by an off-the-hinge serial killer who likes to string up his victims and make the boy watch as he guts them, and a desolate, beautiful Pennysylvanian setting where it's easy to believe all this dark shit could go down. It all amounts to a pretty solid tale. There are, of course, familiar aspects in here. The prolonged torturing of women and the abandoned slaughterhouse where the killer lays his hat are nothing new, nor are the noticeable nods to any number of genre classics, (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN are clearly inspirations). Its common ground, but its all handled with such care and attention to authenticity, that it feels fresh, even daring at times. BEREAVEMENT, in some instances, actually pushed boundaries, without ever slipping into splatter or torture porn. This is a class production, from top to bottom. Familiarity, in this case, does not breed contempt.

Admittedly, the whole thing takes a while to get going. The mayhem begins quick enough, yet the film does feel disjointed during the first half. Its only when our the two factions of characters meet, that the tale kicks into high gear. The first half is full of atmosphere, and a slow slide into the darkness that is to come, yet its continual contrast between family drama, and horrific cruelty tends to leave the viewer feeling like their watching two separate stories spliced together. Its a technique the late, great Horror writer Richard Laymon used very well, and it does take a little getting used to. Director, Steven Mena knows what he's doing though, rest assured your in safe hands. The films latter half brings the two sides of the story clashing together with a ferocity that's as heartrending as it is disturbing. while you spend time with this family and watch there tenuous but loving dynamics evolve, your subtly being drawn into the fold, so by the time pure evil comes knocking, you've unknowingly become part of the family, and the tragedy cuts very deep.

In fact, it was only days after watching the movie that I came to realise just how much it affected me. Much like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Mena's movie is a study of evil. No motive, no reasoning, and no soft punches to ease the horror's that erupt. Its not a cold film. It's a very warm one, that keeps its emotional distance almost as though it fears whats coming as much as you do.

And as for Steven Mena. This guy wrote, directed, edited and sound tracked BEREAVEMENT. You may recall a certain director who blazed his own trail some decades back. And Mena's work here is looking comparable to that level of artistry. He tips his hat to Carpenter often, but he has his own ethos at work, and the promise this guy shows here is through the roof. The music is suitably threatening when it needs to be, subtle when its called for, and has that same quiet undercurrent of tragedy that permeates the whole film. The writing is sparse, giving only enough information to allow the audience to fill in the blanks as they see fit, and his skills in the directors chair are very likely going to see him declared a new master of the genre in the coming years. This guy knows his stuff.

 John Carpenter understood the importance of cinematography, and its arguably more important in the Horror genre than any other. Imagine THE THING without the prowling camerawork of Dean Cundey and you'll get where I'm going with this. Steven Mena has an equally skilled ace up his sleeve in Marco Cappetta, who may well be the finest damn cinematographer we've had since Cundey himself. BEREAVEMENT is beautiful. And I do mean beautiful. Its rare to see a Horror film so lovingly shot. Each frame has its own personality. The landscapes are vast and lonesome, and the moments of horror are captured in a manner that's iconic almost to a fault. This is the best looking film in our genre since WOLF CREEK. Its matches that film in capturing natural visual splendour, and exceeds it, in terms of eliciting tension and capturing the darkness on film. Not to mention the fact that many of the shots, much like that poster I mentioned so long ago, are damned near works of art in themselves.

For all BEREAVEMENT's beauty, its an extremely violent work. It crosses the line occasionally into sickening, but never with the use of gore or sadism for its own sake. There are scenes here I found as disturbing and sad as any I've ever seen. One involving a furnace is so realistic and so blunt in its execution that I felt nauseous. And the entire final act is as unrelenting as the genre gets. Its a non stop spiral into tragedy and senseless violence that cuts deep on an emotional level. Its never fun. Never. And nor should it be. This is no lightweight and frivolous slasher 'caper', this is undiluted Horror. It rips out your heart as it kicks your teeth in, and you'll love it for it. Some will accuse it, as they did with McKee's THE WOMAN, of going too far. Like that film, it does go to dark and dangerous places, but never with a smile on its face. The only instances of humor you'll find here are heartwarming moments between characters, and they only serve to make the emotional attack all the more unrelenting.

It's cast are all playing with a full deck too. Micheal Biehn is reliable as usual, and plays the patriarch figure with a layered sense of love and determination, which often leads him to anger. Alexandra Daddario, as our heroine, is strong, vital and it has to be said, seriously easy on the eyes. She plays her character with an controlled emotional detachment that only makes her vulnerability all the more endearing. As the abductor and serial killer, Brett Rickaby is suitably unhinged and as the killer-to-be, Spencer List is an enigma. Unknowable and poised, he's everything a young Micheal Myers should have been had someone made a film about him, (they didn't, Rob Zombies films don't count). The rest of the small cast are great too, and special mention has to go to Peyton List, as the super-cute daughter of the family, who you'll be praying comes to no harm. Its great to see kids pull off solid performances.

There are as always a few issues with the work. The concept of the kid not feeling pain could be explored a little more, (although I have a feeling it already has been. in MALEVOLENCE), and perhaps a  little more back story on this film's killer wouldn't have hurt. And as much as it pains me to say this, the lead actress' rack is so damned glorious that it's often in danger of taking you out of the movie. Its sometimes hard to keep your concentration where its meant to be, especially during a scene in a freezer. I'm as much a slave to a woman's finer features as any straight man, (or gay woman), but for a film this artful, it felt slightly unnecessary to have those puppies up front non-stop. If Alexandra releases a movie with little going on besides her assets, I'll still be watching it, but in BEREAVEMENT it perhaps showed a slight lack in confidence on Mena's part. Maybe he thought it would hold the audiences attention. (The film holds the audiences attention, Mena, my friend, you have zero to worry about).

Just focus, will ya!?
Overall, BEREAVEMENT, like its auteur director and its entire cast and crew, is a class act. It will have its haters, as films of this nature always do, and it will have those who won't want to get anywhere near it, and that's understandable. But its a real shame for any real fan of Horror cinema to not at least give this one a chance. Theres not only endless potential on display for Steven Mena's future, but theres a modern classic being born right here and now. This film upset me, enthralled me and finally after much exploration of how I felt about it, it won me over. Rarely in recent memory has Horror looked so beautiful, felt so ugly or cut so deep.

9.5 Pert Puppies out of 10

1 comment:

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