- a period of mourning after a loss, especially after the death of a loved one
- a state of intense grief, as after the loss of a loved one; desolation
- deprivation or loss by force
Sorry for the language lesson but I thought it was important to examine what writer-director Stevan Mena didn’t; mainly the notion of “bereavement.” Judging by the definitions above, an exploration of this concept should’ve made for a disturbing, somber horror film. Not so much here. BEREAVEMENT is Mena’s follow up to his 2004 film, MALEVOLENCE (see my review here). Although this is the second film, chronologically BEREAVEMENT comes first. I wasn’t a fan of MALEVOLENCE. My review can be summarized thusly (first time I ever used that word!!):
MALEVOLENCE isn’t a horrible film, it’s just an extremely forgettable one. It’s rather boring with flat characters who all blend together and have no discernible characteristics; the story progresses along in an extremely predictable way and does nothing to ‘shake things up;’ and when it’s over you’re ultimately left feeling extremely ‘meh.’
But I also noted that Mena executes some interesting shots and “deserves another shot;” that’s why I watched BEREAVEMENT. Let’s see what went wrong.
BEREAVEMENT begins the same way as MALEVOLENCE; with the disappearance of young Martin Bristol in 1989 (played by Chase Pechacek in the beginning and then by Spencer List for the rest of the film). The difference here is that we get more details about the abduction. We also learn that Martin suffers from a very rare condition in which he can’t feel any pain. This becomes a very convenient gimmick later on in the film (see below). After being kidnapped by Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby), we flash five years into the future (1994) and join up with Jonathan (Michael Biehn) as he picks up his niece Allison (Alexandra Daddario) who is coming to live with him and his family in the small Pennsylvania town of Minersville after her parents died in a car accident.
But right down the road lives Graham Sutter in his family’s old condemned slaughter house. He’s been raising young Martin to take over the family business which is apparently now abducting and killing young women and taking orders from the skull of a longhorn hanging up on the wall. We get a pretty damn slow beginning of the film where Mena introduces us to the main characters and sets the stage for, what I hope would be, a solid psychological and gory film. No such luck. The characters are indeed “set up,” but ya gotta wonder why. The characters here don’t go through any big changes or development; in fact there’s not so much a character arc here as a “character straight line.” And this is a shame. The main reason I was curious to see BEREAVEMENT was because I was told by fellow reviewers that this was an amazing examination of how Sutter breaks down and ‘trains’ Martin to become a killer. That I was interested in. Unfortunately we got no such examination (sometimes I feel as though I watch a different version of films than other reviewers!!).
Let’s take care of the acting first, which was overall pretty damn good. Biehn, as always, kicks ass even though his characters isn’t too deep. Allison does a pretty decent job but isn’t all that convincing as a sullen 17 year old high school student (as a 20 year old college student, absolutely). Then in the second half of the film Mena does something that really baffled me: Allison goes from being a strong character to one who does extremely stupid things that puts her in danger’s way and makes her situation worse. It might be a pet peeve of mine, but I hate it when characters just walk into other people’s houses to “look around.” This just doesn’t happen. Also worth pointing out is that Rickaby does a really great job as the killer. He’s a strong actor that did his best to make the most out of his under-written character. We see Sutter talking to the longhorn skull on the wall and he even sees shadows of people in his home, but we never examine these in detail.
But perhaps the biggest problems I have with BEREAVEMENT is that there’s no motivation for the killer, we get no explanation why Martin suddenly becomes a killer at the end, and there’s just too many damn gaping plot holes to ignore. The story takes place in Minersville, PA, a very small community. So wouldn’t it make sense that once a bunch of young women from around the community started disappearing that someone would notice? Nope; not so much as a “lost” flier was seen hanging up. Then we have to ignore the fact that young Martin has been missing for 5 years, yet Allison spots him on the Sutter property the day after she moved there? Really? Did the authorities ever think of checking out the old Sutter property, which is home to very strange loner? It’s ridiculous elements like this that pull you completely out of the story and give you a headache from rolling your eyes so much.
BEREAVEMENT is a slight improvement over MALEVOLENCE (which really isn’t saying much), but it’s far from being a film I can recommend. The most interesting aspect of the film, that of Martin ‘becoming’ a killer, is completely ignored to focus on secondary, less interesting characters (John Savage has a completely superfluous role that added nothing to the story). Add to this a very slow pace, huge plot holes, and not one original idea, and you’ve got yourself a 103 minute time waster. I’ve been reading positive reviews about this one and I’m baffled. Some reviewers will like all indie films simply because they wanna support the indie horror scene. You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of indie horror, but I put them up to the same scrutiny as I do Hollywood releases. Bottom line is that BEREAVEMENT isn’t a fun film at all. It’s dull with a slow pace and characters doing really stupid things. Definitely skip this one.
Director: Stevan Mena (& writer)
Plot: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer