Bereavement (2012)

Bereavement is a competently made horror film but it’s also fantastically pedestrian and massively uninspired. Writer / Producer / Director Stevan Mena does a very serviceable job of creating a emotive, dark little serial-killer flick but it’s simply devoid of anything unique or compelling. Sorry Stevan, but we’ve seen it all before.

So what is Bereavement about? The IMDB synopsis claims “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” which makes this film sound like it’s actually about the six year old. Unfortunately it’s not.

Unlike Jennifer Lynch’s taut and disturbing psychological horror Chained (which has a similar premise), Bereavement doesn’t actually focus on Martin Bristol (Spencer List) as much as it should. The prologue deals with Martin’s kidnap where he is instantly forced to watch Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby) stab a girl to death… and then we cut to five years later, where Jonathan Miller (Michael Biehn) picks up his estranged niece Alison (Alexandra Daddario) in the middle of the countryside.

We then focus on the relationship between Alison and her uncle’s family, along with the sexy local boy William (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his wheelchair-bound dad (John Savage). This all seems a little unnecessary when there’s a kidnap victim living nearby, who’s been forced to watch a serial killer murder dozens of girls for half a decade…

This is the problem with films created by producer / writer / director; sometimes you end up with Gareth Edwards and Monsters and other times you end up with Stevan Mena and Bereavement. Mena’s direction is decent but his script is significantly lacking. Luckily this isn’t self-indulgence slapped on screen (like some writer / directors), although it is a lengthy film and needlessly meandering. Too much focus goes on conversations in cars and relationships that go nowhere.

At 1 hour 45 minutes it is excruciatingly long for such a mundane story, with the serial-killing nutcase storyline interweaving with a family drama and neither being compelling enough to keep you watching. When they eventually collide (just after the hour mark) it’s far too late and it’s a genuine shame because this is when the film really begins to pick up pace.

Another sign of a producer / writer / director influence is the ‘good idea wasted’. The boy Martin has some sort of weird syndrome in which he literally cannot feel pain. He responds to touch but cannot feel physical hurt; he could bite his own tongue off and not realize it or break a bone and keep on playing. Nasty. But is this amazing idea ever relevant to the plot? Unfortunately not. It might be great for a sequel… but in the context of the film it’s just a little bit confusing and needless.

Bereavement is very well acted by everyone involved. Alexandra Daddario is excellent as our protagonist and Michael Biehn does a fine job as her exposition-spewing uncle. Brett Rickaby is also superb as the psychotic serial killer, who is genuinely believable in his troubled mania (and last seen being mental in The Crazies as that disquieting farmer who burns his family alive). It’s just a shame they weren’t all given a better script to play with.

I feel especially sorry for Alexandra Daddario, who spends the latter half of Bereavement dressed in a low-cut white top with no bra. This cleavage-screaming nippletastic wardrobe choice is immensely distracting and harks back to an era when women weren’t treated with respect in horror movies and instead as just a pair of big tits with a screambox on top. She’s a great actress but all people will remember from Bereavement is her angry nipples pressing against her white T-shirt…

Anyway, enough about boobs. There’s also a truly random cameo from John Savage in Bereavement, as the wheelchair bound father of a minor-character. It’s another example of needless extra characters / scenes which could’ve easily been cut to create a more fluid and pacier film. Savage is typically excellent, but his entire character is wholly pointless.

Ticking off a billion clichés – from the serial killer’s dank lair to the overly-convenient school lesson that kindly delivers our theme (like a pan in the face) – Bereavement is annoyingly close to being good, but falls short and just becomes ‘another serial killer film’.

Nowadays you have to inject something truly original into an indie horror in order to make it fresh and compelling… and unfortunately Bereavement doesn’t. This is competent work from writer / producer / director Stevan Mena but sadly not good enough to be recommended viewing.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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