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Old 10-31-2011, 06:37 PM
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Bereavement




Reviewer: Chunkblower
Review Date: October 31, 2011

Format: Blu-ray
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: August 30, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Region A
Progressive Scan
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 2.40 | 16x9: Yes
2011




inline ImageSerial killer films are usually long on thrills and violence and short on characters and motivation. Today itís all about the sexy killer or the killer with the creative M.O. with very little attention is paid to the underlying pathology. The low budget thriller, Bereavement, with its more character-centric approach, looks to provide viewers with a respite from the thinly developed serial killer movies of the new millennium. Conceived as a follow up that serves as a prequel to writer/director/producer Stevan Menaís well regarded 2004 film Malevolence, Bereavement looks to go back and explore the origins of a serial killer and discover how an innocent young boy is turned into a monster. Itís a noble aim but, due to some troublesome writing and unclear character motivations, Bereavement unfortunately falls short of its lofty ambition.


The Story

inline ImageOn a dreary day in 1989 in the town of Minersville, Pennsylvania, six-year-old Martin Bristol (Chase Pechacek) is abducted from the swing set in front of his house by serial killer Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby). Young Martin has a rare condition, congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), in which his nerves are unable to register sensations of pain and unable to discern feelings of hot or cold. The dangers of CIPA are twofold: first it Makes Martin extremely vulnerable to injury; he could break a bone and not even realize it. Secondly, because Martin has no frame of reference when it comes to pain, heís unable to empathize with the pain of others. This leaves him particularly susceptible for what Sutter has planned for him. Taken back to Sutterís home, a former slaughter house, heís schooled in the way of serial killing.

inline ImageFlash forward five years. Seventeen year old Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario) arrives from Chicago via bus to the rural home of her uncle, Jonathan Miller (Michael Biehn). Allisonís parents have died and Allisonís going to spend her last bit of time before adulthood with her uncle, her aunt Karen (Kathryn Meisle) and young cousin Wendy (Peyton List). A recreational runner, Allison begins her first full day at her new home with a jog through the rural area. Her run takes her by the old Sutter slaughter house, where she catches a glimpse of now eleven year old Martin (Spencer List). It also takes her past the home of William (Nolan Funk), where sheís almost run off the road by a truck. William offers her a ride home on his motorcycle, which doesnít impress Uncle J. It seems William has a bit of a checkered past and Jonathan is concerned about the influence he would have on his vulnerable young niece.

inline ImageSutter has spent the intervening years continually travelling out to surrounding towns in search of victims. Heís possessed of a need to atone for his part in the slaughter of animals while the slaughterhouse was operational and, for whatever reason, sees Martin as a means to that end. Because Martin doesnít feel pain, Sutter interprets this to mean that he has a pure soul, unburdened by guilt.

inline ImageFrom minute one, Bereavement drips with effective mood and atmosphere. The opening shots are so evocative of a damp, mid-Atlantic day that the visuals almost make you want to reach for a sweater or rain slicker. The opening scenes really set your expectations high, so itís a disappointment that as the film segues into the main plot it becomes apparent that it is not going to deliver on the promise of its opening scenes that it isnít going to be able to pull the disparate plot elements together. The actors do a valiant job trying to give the audience a reason to care about whatís happening on screen, but the material simply isnít there.

inline ImageThe movie takes an admirable stab at human drama and contrasts the two ďfamiliesĒ but, as a prequel to Malevolence, it doesnít do a fantastic job of explaining the things it sets out to establish. Mena wants to give us insight into the Sutter and Martinís minds, but he has doesnít impart their psychological motivation to the audience clearly. This is largely due to the choice of making Martin mostly monosyllabic; the two donít really have a relationship so Mena is left trying to develop Sutterís psychological state from a purely visual standpoint. This is a daunting task for even the most seasoned filmmakers and he is unable to rise to the challenge. There are scenes that use the visual conceits of a bull skull and a journal that are supposed to occur entirely inside a Sutterís mind, but that doesnít come across on the screen at all. Honestly, I had no idea what was happening in those scenes until I listened to the audio commentary. This obfuscation robs Sutterís scenes of suspense or drama. Watching the film with the commentary on is not just recommended, itís absolutely essential if you are to understand whatís actually going on; I could not have written a plot summary of this movie without it.

inline ImageWithout potent drama to back up the ďoriginĒ of Martin, all weíre left with is a lot of purposeless violence. There are just far too many shadowy scenes of women hanging from hooks and being terrorized and murdered. Itís harrowing at first, the initial on-screen murder is extremely effective, but monotony stets in as the film wears on. Thereís no suspense to these scenes because thereís no build up. Victims just appear in the slaughterhouse with no explanation of how they got there and are just as quickly dispatched. We never get a sense of the victim or are allowed an opportunity to get involved with their plight. The fact that the violence is extremely unpleasant doesnít help matters and the murders are stretched way beyond a reasonable length. Thereís nothing here to justify the 107 minute running time.

inline ImageIn stark contrast, the regular human drama is much better handled, at least in the sense that the motivations of the characters are clear. The story still relies too heavily on soap opera level dramatic clichťs, but at least the scenes are comprehensible. Itís textbook storytelling but it still serves as a nice reprieve from the obtuseness of the other plot. On the commentary Mena reveals that a lot of Williamsí relationship with his father hit the cutting room floor in the editing process, yet in the few scenes that remain I have a far better scenes of who the characters are, why they act the way they do and how they feel about each other than I was able to glean from all the scenes between Sutter and Martin.

So, half the movie is maudlin family drama and the other half is whatís intended to be an intense psychological thriller, but thereís not much connection between the two halves. For most of its running time watching Bereavement feels like switching channels between two entirely different movies. When the two stories do eventually meet the connection is made in such an arbitrary way that it doesnít feel satisfying. There needed to be more scenes bridging the two stories; not just scenes of Allison jogging by the slaughterhouse but scenes where she interacts with Sutter before he abducts her - something to make the two halves of the story feel like they belong together.

inline ImageYouíll notice I havenít said anything about top-billed Michael Biehn. Thatís because heís barely in the movie and his role is the dullard uncle. Looking at the cover, youíd think that it was a serial killer movie starring him as the killer (which would be awesome). Youíd be wrong. Instead, heís wasted in forced, mawkish scenes of domestic drama before being unceremoniously dispatched from the film without kicking any kind of ass, whatsoever.

inline ImageIf there is a bright spot, itís the absolutely gorgeous Alexandra Daddario. With her piercing, icy blue eyes and her open, vulnerable face sheís an instantly appealing screen presence, able to project both innocence and unforced sensuality. She also has a couple things in common with classic scream queens, such as Jamie Lee CurtisÖif you catch my meaning. Not only is she striking but she actually has acting chops, and is still able to create a sympathetic character from the very thin material. I look forward to seeing her in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D next year.



Image Quality

inline ImageFor such a low budget movie, Bereavement looks slick and professional. The picture quality is fantastic. There are some really fantastic vistas on display here, from the palpable wetness of the misty opening scenes, to the amber orange light during the scenes establishing the Miller family. Itís certainly done justice by the transfer here. Colors are rich and deeply saturated when appropriate. Flesh tones are accurate. Source material is pristine and I didnít notice anything in the way of compression issues. Detail is great in dark scenes as well as in the light of day. Bereavement is a really nice looking film.


Sound

No matter how slick a movie looks, its budget is almost always apparent in its soundtrack. Such is the case with the adequate but unspectacular Dolby True HD 5.1 track included on this Blu-ray. As is typical of low budget productions, it rarely ever makes good use of all five discreet channels. Itís pretty much just a stereo track with some music echoed in the back channels and a bit low end thrown in. In the front, everything is well balanced, though dialogue can sound overly canned. None of the audioís shortcomings are surprising considering how costly a great sound mix can be and shouldnít count as a huge black mark against the film or disc.


Supplemental Material

inline ImageAs already eluded to, the audio commentary with writer/director/producer Stevan Mena is an absolute must-listen. He clears up plot incoherencies, and gives character insight thatís lacking in the film but, even beyond that, heís a competent technical craftsman who knows how to churn out professional looking product on a low budget. Whatever your opinion of the film itself, aspiring filmmakers will probably get a lot out of the commentary.

The Making of Bereavement (34:37) is a typical behind the scenes piece: interviews and behind the scenes footage interspersed with footage from the movie proper. Itís interesting enough but, after the enlightening commentary, I was kind of hoping for something a bit more revelatory.

inline ImageFirst Look: On the Set (7:06) is pretty much the same deal as the full-on making of featurette, in truncated form. Again, some interesting clips but, again, I must direct anyone looking for insight to listen to the commentary instead.

7 Deleted Scenes with optional directorís commentary (running a total 10:45), dealing with William and his father, a short scene extension between Jonathan and Allison and a deleted subplot about the ghostly visage of a victim that torments Sutter. Watch Biehnís eye line in his scene and count how many times he checks out Daddarioís chest (not that I blame him). On the commentary, Mena explains the rationale behind the deletion of the scenes. Not sure that itís totally necessary since the reasons are pretty apparent. Even with 10 minutes cut out, the feature still feels overlong.

Rounding out the supplement is a collection of promotional materials: A Theatrical Trailer (1:45) thatís not as professionally assembled as the film its advertising, a TV Spot (0:32) that feels even chintzier and an animated Still Montage (4:57) of promotional and behind the scenes pics, set to the filmís main theme. Nice that theyíre included for the sake of completion, but not really worth the time it takes to watch them.


Final Thoughts

inline ImageBereavement is a nice effort but ultimately a failure at its primary aims. The cinematography is fantastic and there are moments of interest for those who choose to watch it, but thereís not enough substance here to justify the bloated 107 minute running time. The screenplay could have used a polish or two before going before the cameras. Barring that, a little more judicious editing might be able to minimize some of Bereavementís shortcomings. As it is, however, itís far easier to appreciate than it is to like or be entertained by. Fans of Malevolence might get more out of it than I did, but if itís truly a prequel then it should work equally well for those without foreknowledge of Menaís prior film. I can only think of two reasons to recommend Bereavement, and theyíre both located on Alexandra Daddario.


Rating

.
Movie - C

Image Quality - A-

Sound - B

Supplements - B-





Technical Info.
  • Colour
  • Running time - 1 hour and 47 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English 5.1 Dolby True HD
  • English SDH subtitles

Supplemental Material
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Stevan Mena
  • ďThe Making of BereavementĒ Featurette
  • ďFirst Look: On SetĒ Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Still Gallery

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