Bereavement (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Stevan Mena
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Whenever modern filmmakers take a stab at the slasher genre, the word “throwback” is often touted as a way for them to say they’ve bridged the fun of our favorite 80s classics with something of a more modern sensibility. To say the vast majority of them miss the point spectacularly isn’t wrong, but every now and again someone gets it right. Such was certainly the case with Stevan Mena’s Malevolence. A meticulously paced (some might say “boring”) slasher story, it featured a creepy killer, jarring musical stings and some pervasive atmosphere. It felt like a bona fide relic of early 1980s filmmaking, which is exactly why it resonated with slasher fans.
For years Mena claimed the story of resident killer Marin Bristol was merely the middle part in a trilogy, but the further we got away from 2004, the less likely it seemed that we would ever return to the ill-fated slaughterhouse that caught so much of the carnage the first time around. But finally we have Bereavement, a prequel set some fifteen years before the events in the first one. This is the story of the deranged madman who kidnapped Martin Bristol and subjected him to years of psychological trauma and brutal murder – resulting in his own career as an eventual mass murderer.
Right off the bat, Bereavement is going to alienate viewers of a more modern mindset. Mena’s approach to his prequel is better suited to the era of the 1970s, when horror had a slow burn and characters mattered. There are long stretches throughout the film’s 107 minutes where not very much happens outside of little character moments that don’t necessarily advance the story. Mena isn’t interested in recreating the events of Malevolence with a different killer, meaning Bereavement isn’t a slasher film. Sure, there’s murder, but it’s almost never of the stalk 'n slash variety. Instead, our villain captures young women off rural country roads and brings them back to his abandoned slaughterhouse for a healthy dose of torture before brutally ending their lives. Young Martin witnesses every gruesome detail, and soon his mind begins to decay as well.
That’s a large part of what’s happening throughout the film, but there’s equal focus placed on Allison (Alexandra Daddario), a high school cross-country runner who relocates to rural America to live with her uncle (Michael Biehn) and family after her parents are killed. There’s a bit of an unlikely romantic subplot between Allison and a local boy (Nolan Gerard Funk), lots of family strife and some appropriate parallels drawn between our protagonists and antagonists. Mena’s story weaves a recurring theme about the damage done by overbearing family bonds throughout the narrative, giving his film some welcome substance. The people in Bereavement carry some baggage, making them a lot more human and far more identifiable than standard horror fodder.
And while there’s plenty to appreciate about the measured pace, it’s not entirely successful. There’s perhaps one too many torture sequences early on, making the story feel a bit redundant while we wait for our main characters to cross paths with the psycho. Fortunately, Mena manages some solid set pieces throughout these moments. When the soon-to-be victims try to escape, Bereavement showcases Mena’s deft touch for suspense filmmaking. He doesn’t shy away from the violence either, offering some especially nasty/unsettling fates for his victims.
Some have balked at the writer/director’s decision to take the focus away from Malevolence’s Martin Bristol; however, Mena was wise to keep the kid in what is probably best summarized as a strong supporting role. Bristol didn’t have any personality in Malevolence, and he’s little more than a traumatized child here. His descent into madness and decision to murder stem more from his ghastly surroundings, further intensified by the literary themes of Mena’s story. The sins of the father are always laid upon the son, and every character in Bereavement struggles with this baggage in some way. For Martin, his eventual slasher status isn’t surprising in this context.
Bereavement is strong horror filmmaking, no doubt. Some aren’t going to like the slow going approach while others will find the gradual build and strong performances more than adequate. It’s an interesting companion to Malevolence and with plenty of merit on its own. The occasional repetition of the first two acts are a slight detriment, as are a few minor story beats (no one in this small town noticed the amazingly suspicious vehicle the killer drives at any of the crime scenes?), but that’s not to carp too much. It was a long time coming, but Bereavement is worth the wait.
Bereavement hits DVD with a strong 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that features crisp detail and strong colors – especially for standard definition. I was not given the Blu-ray although I will amend this section if I can get a look at the 1080p transfer.
The audio holds strong with a 5.1 track. This doesn’t have the musical stings that propelled me from my seat a time or two in Malevolence, but it’s an effective surround track regardless. Good channel separation means that dialogue is always clear while surround channels work well with ambient sounds and music. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with the lossy audio here.
The healthy collection of extras include a standard ‘making-of’ documentary (35 minutes), complete with the usual enthusiasm for a project one usually finds in these things. It’s a nice little look at shooting the prequel, both informative and amusing (Michael Biehn, in particular) – one of the best DVD documentaries I’ve seen lately. It assumes you’ve seen the film so don’t be that one weirdo who watches the documentary first as there are heavy spoilers throughout. There’s also a “First Look" featurette which could’ve just been rolled into the documentary. The handful of deleted scenes are interesting little character bits, well worth a look for fans of the film, though I understand these might’ve been present in one of Mena’s earlier cuts and it’s probably to the film’s advantage that they’re no longer present, pace wise. A relatively interesting (if dry) commentary track with Mena is worth a listen, and a theatrical trailer, TV spot, stills gallery and screenplay (via DVD ROM) round out this set.
Bereavement is quality, as is the collection of supplemental materials Anchor Bay has packed onto the DVD. Hopefully it won’t take Mena another six or seven years to get the final installment in Martin Bristol’s saga off the ground as this is a superior ongoing horror saga – one that’s well worthy of continuation.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5