( Quick note, this is a review I did for Amazon Vine of the DVD release of Bereavement. The review is mostly of the movie, but there’s a bit about the supplementary features underneath as well for the purposes of the review. Also, I did receive the movie for free, yada yada, usual disclaimers apply. )
Bereavement is the 2010 prequel to indie slasher film Malevolence, written and directed by Steven Mena. If you haven’t heard of Malevolence, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised. It was a small, almost no-budget slasher film, the story of some bank robbers and their hostages who hide out in a house that turns out to be home to a serial killer.
The one noteworthy plot point to an otherwise aggressively average film was the reveal in the last fifteen minutes that the killer was a boy who was kidnapped by a killer two decades before and brought up to take over killing people. It was the most disturbing concept in the original film, finding the older killer’s journal where he talks about how strong the boy is getting, knowing that he would one day become a victim as well.
So it’s no surprise that Bereavement takes up that plot as its basis. It is the story of Martin, a six year old boy with CIPA kidnapped by serial killer Graham Sutter. Sutter believes that causing pain cleanses people of sin, and that Martin’s insensitivity to pain makes him a pure spirit, the only one sinless enough to deserve to absolve others. So begins his lengthy apprenticeship as Graham carves up a variety of people while Martin watches.
Parallelled to this story is that of Allison, a 17 year old who comes to the small rural Pennsylvania town where Graham works in secret. Allison (played by Alexandra Daddario before her ‘star making’ turn as the girl in that Percy Jackson movie) is recently orphaned and is coming to live with her uncle Johnathan (played by Michael Biehn reminding us we’re all doomed to middle age eventually). She slowly begins to explore the wide open spaces that are now her home, and her and Martin are brought together slowly.
As a horror movie, Bereavement is honestly not particularly great. It’s well made, but there are almost no scares in the entire film and when the third act bloodbath finally happens it seems more like lip service to the demands of the genre than something someone was really invested in. A large part of that is because it’s a prequel, and so much of the story surrounds the future of Martin, a boy you already know is going to grow up to become a killer.
That said, the movie does invest heavily in its characters. Allison’s slow awakening to the world around her, coming out of her grief, is well acted and the small human drama between her and her uncle is genuinely interesting. At the same time, Martin’s experiences with Sutter’s bloody tutalige are a weird mixture of angry, violent, and sympathetic and sweet. Sutter is a monster, but he is clear-minded in his insanity, and he seeminly takes great care to groom Martin in his image.
There’s an interesting story here, about the nature of evil in people and how the circumstances in which one is raised create the person. It’s a slow burn and it seems content to take its time building up the characters into people with actual motivations and personalities. It’s a rare thing in the genre, and it makes it easy to forgive a lot of its other flaws. Unfortunately, all the subtext of the film eventually gets spelled out and then shoved aside in favor of the genre trappings, Allison in peril and Martin ending up exactly where we already know he will. So when all these interesting characters start getting bumped off, it doesn’t heighten the fear, it just seems like so much wasted potential.
Bereavement is better than average for a serial killer movie, to be sure, but I kept hoping it would be something more. Unfortunately, like all genre films and all prequels, it suffers by its expectations. I would have rather seen something revisionist, even at the expense of retconning away the first film, if it would have made a better story. As it is, Bereavement is good parts that never quite come together to make a good film. It is, in the end, more a blip than anything of note, cut down in its prime just like so many of the film’s victims.
The movie comes with a 30 minute making of feature that seems more like a home video shot on set than a professionally produced piece of ancilliary material. It’s a lot of actors goofing off and director Stevan Mena explaining himself to the camera. This is followed up by a much more conventional promo piece that can be easily skipped.
There are a number of deleted scenes, detailing two rather meaty subplots that were excised completely from the film. They aren’t necessary, but they are good character beats. One in particular, involving Sutter being haunted by the memory of his victims, is genuinely creepier than anything that made it into the actual film.
Then there’s a commentary by Mena. Mena seems like a nice guy, but he’s obviously in love with his film and his actors and watching him talk to himself for 103 minutes about how great everything turned out is more great sleeping material than an informative commentary. It’s not a train wreck, but it’s perfunctory, which might be worse.