Bereavement

Rating:

Why Seeing a Prequel Second Really Matters

Main Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Brett Rickaby

Director: Stevan Mena

“When Allison moves to a remote farm, she discovers that a neighbor has been training a 10-year-old lad he kidnapped in the ways of serial murder.” That was the Netflix description for writer/director Stevan Mena’s 2010 movie Bereavement. I mean, how can you not want to see that? What I didn’t know at the time was that Bereavement is the second movie in a trilogy. Granted, it’s chronologically a prequel to the first movie in the series, Malevolence, I got the feeling watching this one that it would have had more impact had I seen the other movie first.

Bereavement is two stories in one. In the first plot line, Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby, The Crazies) has kidnapped young Martin Bristol, a boy suffering from congenital analgesia, leaving him numb and unable to feel pain. Over five years, Graham makes Martin watch as he slaughters pretty townswomen like cattle, assuring him that they feel nothing and aren’t really being hurt.

In the other plot line, Allison (Alexandra Daddario, Texas Chainsaw) has recently moved to town to live with her uncle Jonathan and his wife and daughter. Her parents have recently been killed in a car accident, and now Allison, a Chicago native, is attempting to adjust to small town life where “a few miles away” is your closest neighbor. She’s understandably less than thrilled. A distance runner, Allison learns there’s no track team at her new school. Friendless, she finally meets a boy she likes, only to have Uncle Jonathan warn him to stay away from her. Seems like the only thing Allison CAN do is wonder about the little boy she keeps seeing in the window of the abandoned Sutter slaughter house.

This can’t end well.

Personally, I found this movie overly long and with far too many stretches of nothing happening. I understand in hindsight that it was all serving as a character study of how Martin Bristol becomes what he is in Malevolence, but I haven’t seen Malevolence yet so, at this point, I’m not as interested in where he will be in five years and I am more interested in just keeping this particular story moving along.

Sutter is shown to talk to some unseen force, possibly his dead father who kept the young Sutter out of school and into the family business before the cost of upgrades forced the doors to close. Sutter is obviously a mental case, and we never truly understand why he kidnapped young Martin in the first place. I think a little less time could have been spent on developing a moody atmosphere and a little more on character motivation.

The performances are okay, all around, but nothing struck me as noteworthy. I won’t say Daddario was more convincing in Texas Chainsaw, but her character in that movie definitely went through a lot more and came out a different person for the effort. Allison, however, begins and ends in nearly the same place emotionally and mentally. Daddarion can scream her head off, though, so I guess that’s a good skill in a movie like this.

Brett Rickaby makes Sutter totally unlikable and unrelatable, even after we’ve come to understand he’s completely off his rocker and deserves some amount of sympathy. But considering Sutter’s entire purpose in this movie was to serve as a plot device to set up the next movie, I’m not sure we were supposed to care about him. And that’s too bad, because it renders the movie’s main antagonist one-dimensional. Or, I guess, two-dimensional as he does, on screen, have height and width, just no depth. Anyway, you know what I mean.

Spenser List plays Martin Bristol, and if you thought the majority of scenes featuring young nearly-comatose Michael Myers in the 2007 Halloween remake were flat, that kid had miles on List’s performance. At the same time, Martin feels nothing, physically. It’s a good bet he feels nothing emotionally as well. He never utters a word, so we want to think he’s simply retreated into his own headspace as a survival tactic in this terrible situation. However, he does try to escape, and often dreams about it, so we know he’s still conscious of what’s going on. He even tries to help one girl escape, so he must know, on some level, that what’s happening around him is wrong.

Yet he shows absolutely no outward signs of awareness. In most scenes it was almost as if Rickaby were acting opposite a plan of wood with List’s face drawn on it.

I understand that, as writer and director, and even producer, that this movie is going to be Mena’s vision from start to finish. But, come on, man, I think he could have picked up the pace a LITTLE bit, right? An hour and forty-five minutes for a movie in which ALL of the important action takes place in the last half hour, that’s stretching a viewer’s patience. I think the only way that kind of running time is excusable is if you have already seen Maleovlence and are that interested in seeing Martin’s backstory and trying to better understand how he became that character. I mean, I’d be very interested in seeing a movie that focuses on the development of Jason Vorhees from little kid drowning in a lake to hulking brute of a killing machine. But that’s Jason Vorhees. This is Martin Bristol, and until this morning, I’d never heard of him and couldn’t have cared less about how he became a serial killer, or whatever he is in Malevolence.

So I guess in the end, Bereavement isn’t a bad movie. I think it just probably works better with Malevolence as a lead-in so those little character bits featuring Martin are stronger and more relevant to the overall story. I can recommend this movie, but I strongly suggest you start with the other movie and then come to this one. And then let me know how they work in conjunction, in the right order, dramatically.

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