Stevan Mena’s Bereavement starts promisingly. Shadows of The Shining, Silence of the Lambs and The Terminator are present during the opening few minutes. A few minutes more however and the scene starts to resemble a 90’s television drama. From then on the film continues formulaically, akin to the approach seen in such programmes and offers nothing to shake it off. Bereavement is not an utter disaster but only because it does everything as expected. Mena displays a keen knowledge of the process of the horror genre but he will need to add something extra for his work to stick its head over the pulpit.
It has been some years since six year old Martin Bristol (Spencer List), a child who cannot experience pain, has been kidnapped by a deranged psychopath Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby). The youngster has been kept in a basement and forced to experience the awful torture Sutter inflicts upon the young women he takes hostage. In a seemingly unrelated story we find moody teenager Alison Miller (Alexandra Daddario) moving in with her Uncle Jonathan (Michael Biehn) and his partner in the same town Sutter is located. Mena signposts Alison’s arrival into the film, bringing her dark and cold demeanour into a bright, idyllic country setting, the dialogue introducing her is functional and stilted. There is no equivocation that she is has a troubled past yet to be unearthed.
It is quickly established that Alison will be involved with Sutter at some point as she jogs past his eerie abode. The music heightens and Alison wears a concerned frown as she catches a glimpse of young Martin in the window. As her jog carries on she comes across William (Nolan Gerard Funk) who is all set to be her love interest, fixing a car. He saves her from an oncoming truck; this gives her a chance to explain her full back-story to this relative stranger. Friction then develops between Alison and her Uncle Jonathan as he despises the idea of her dating young William, which in turn leads her toward her inevitable descent into Sutter’s basement lair.
At the core of Bereavement lies a very interesting concept, a child unable to experience pain. This is cleverly used to develop Martin’s obscene relationship with the maniacal Sutter, who believes that Martin’s genetic disorder is in fact a sign of purity. His inability to experience pain and thus empathise with Sutter’s torture victims means his development under Sutter’s watch is intriguing to observe. Just a young boy, he is yet to fully distinguish right from wrong. It is impossible to tell whether or not he will be able to reject Sutter’s evil, even if he is rescued from his hellish abode.
The problem with the film is that this concept is never fully realised and is often lost amid the screaming and grunting of the torture porn that ensues. The violence is pure Giallo horror, blood spurting and physical overemphasis but without the vivid creativity of the genre. Sutter could have echoed Norman Bates but lacks the eerie calm that makes Bates so decidedly creepy, instead Sutter comes across as a religious nut. Mena was very close to creating something at least interesting here but instead falls back on horror crutches to leave the film slightly tired and with unfulfilled promise.
Bereavement is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from October 1st courtesy of High Flier Films.