Director: Stevan Mena
Writer: Stevan Mena
Cast: Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage, Nolan Gerard Funk
Stevan Mena’s “Bereavement” is a prequel to his “Malevolence,” which found Martin Bristol ten years post-kidnapping where he was abducted while playing on a swing. “Bereavement” takes us to Martin as a child in 1989 in Minersville, Pennsylvania. One thing that we learned from “Malevolence” was that director Stevan Mena knows how to make a good throwback slasher film. There are far too few directors these days who can make a decent slasher movie. Stevan Mena is definitely not one of them.
Enough talk about “Malevolence” though. On to “Bereavement,” which was a movie that I have been waiting to see for far too long. I was able to score a copy from the director himself. Upon putting the DVD in my player, a few things jumped out at me. First was that this was the 24th screener to be made. Second was that my name actually appeared on the screen itself. Okay, so it only said that this screener was prepared for Mike Guerreiro of FearShop.com, but it did bring a smile to my face nonetheless. I am not sure why I was so happy that the screener said that, but I was. I do realize that was just a measure taken to ensure that the screener would not be distributed, but let me have my day in the sun.
In the production notes to the film, Stevan Mena states that he makes sure that the audience knows something about the characters because we can care for them more when they are stabbed, bludgeoned or knocked over the head with a shovel. How right he is. In horror movies, we are rarely treated to any real character development and find it hard to relate to any of the lead characters in these movies. It seems to be a bit of a lost art with horror films. Remember the old days when we all knew the characters in horror movies? Everyone who Tommy Jarvis from Friday the 13th and Laurie Strode from Halloween. Just think back to George A. Romero’s Dead series. The reason that these movies succeeded was because they were movies about people in a world with zombies not zombies in a world with people. Would Dawn of the Dead still be a great film without the Zombies? I would venture to say that it there is a very good chance that it would.
Now, seriously, we are really going to talk about “Bereavement” now. First and foremost, it was cut down from 3 hours to what seems like a brief 106 minutes. As promised, much of the movie is spent on building up the characters and building up the tension. The tension is aided by the subtle soundtrack which hearkens back to 80’s-style slashers. The lead is played by the absolutely gorgeous and voluptuous Alexandra Daddario and she does a fine job with her role. Also, I have not been so mesmerized by a white tank top since the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“Bereavement” is a very stylized slasher which makes exceptional used of sounds and shadows to set up such an atmospheric piece that you cannot help but fall into the world and feel like you are playing a role in the film as well. Not many genre films can say that their films are directed with such style and grace.
The film depicts the serial killings of beautiful young women by Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby), a crazed recluse who lives in an abandoned slaughterhouse. Five years earlier, he had kidnapped six-year-old Martin (Spencer List), who possesses a genetic abnormality that prevents him from feeling physical pain. The young boy serves as his accomplice in what appears to be some sort of depraved mentoring relationship.
As the film develops slowly, Mena treats us to such a buildup of tension that we find ourselves at the edge of our seats by the last third of the film. I think that it was a wise choice to save all of the action for that portion of the film as we do get to know the characters fairly well and we do care whether they live or die. Mena’s formulaic methods are the methods that I have been screaming for directors to follow for a long time. I am so happy that someone out there really knows how to do it the right way.
In addition to the eerie tone of the film, we are also treated to plenty of blood in this one as well, although most of it is towards the end of the film. We are treated to some surprise deaths and brutal killings as well as many memorable scenes such as blank gazes from the Martin which will send chills up your spine. We get to know Graham Sutter a little more and are able to delve into his personality to find out what his relationship with Martin really is and how it gets to be that way.
Prequels always tend to scare me a little because there are so many ways that they can fail. Many take the route of telling you too much about the antagonist. Others are destined to fail because we already know how it will end since we have already seen the sequel. Thankfully, Bereavement does not fall into those traps and succeeds on many different levels.